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12/23/2010
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Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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Will Malware Hit Smartphones In 2011?

Malware, viruses and the like have been a routine part of life for PC owners for years, at least if you are running Windows. Smartphone users have been largely ignored by the malware community, but that will inevitably change. Will it be sooner rather than later?

Malware, viruses and the like have been a routine part of life for PC owners for years, at least if you are running Windows. Smartphone users have been largely ignored by the malware community, but that will inevitably change. Will it be sooner rather than later?Windows users have been the target mostly because of their vast numbers. Why target a platform with two percent share when you can go after one with over 90 percent share? As smartphones become more popular, it will be worth targeting them as well. They are all online, they often have sensitive data on them and users regularly engage in banking and ecommerce transactions, everything a malware author loves to hear.

NetworkWorld has an article on the main threats that loom for smartphones. They are:

  • Rogue applications
  • Traditional malware
  • Privacy and data collection issues
  • Social engineering
These are the same threats that PC users face. Rogue applications, while a real threat, should not be a huge concern. Most mobile platforms have their apps funneled through an app store that verifies an app does what it advertises and won't cause any problems. Even if one gets through, the owner of the app store can remotely remove the rogue app, thus protecting the user, the phone and potentially the network.

Likewise, other malware shouldn't be much of an issue either. If you are only getting your apps through your platform's application store, external apps shouldn't be able to get on your device, no matter how hard you try. However, if you jailbreak your phone so you can open it up to other apps, you also open it up to malicious programs outside of an application store.

Now, there are very valid reasons to jailbreak your device, a process that US court systems have declared legal. If you do though, you just need to be aware of the risks. Unlike a PC, your smartphone doesn't have anti-virus protection, nor should it. Those little devices sometimes are working full out just to move menus around seamlessly for you. They don't need the drag of antivirus apps sucking the power from your processor.

The one that will be the most serious is social engineering. Too many people fall prey to this on their PCs by clicking on links and allowing actions in the hopes of getting a really cool sparkly cursor, or to help some prince in a foreign land get his money out of the country. It is like they say, you can't cure stupid.

One of the best protections against this is to use a service like OpenDNS which blocks phishing sites and similar destinations of social engineering tricks. However, this type of option isn't available to many smartphone owners.

I think the risk of malware is real, but it isn't imminent. Platform designers have learned a lot since the days of Slammer and Blaster. As users, we just have to be prudent about where we go and what we click and your phone should not be a source of concern for you.

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