Can phones and tablets get viruses?

It’s astonishing how many people assume that smartphones and tablets are immune to viruses and other malware. Although it’s comparatively rare, it can – and does – happen, and it’s on the rise. Here’s what you need to know to stay safe.

Whether you’re using Apple, Android, or Windows, your mobile device is potentially vulnerable. The first cellphone virus was recorded ten years ago, in 2003. They’re not as common as Windows viruses, but hackers are realizing that more and more people are using phones and tablets, so they’re rapidly switching their attention to those platforms. Last year, security researchers identified nearly 25,000 new threats targeting mobile devices – that’s more than 20 times as many as they found in 2010.

And mobile viruses can be nasty – they can potentially access all your contacts and apps and stored info such as credit cards or bank details. They can also send texts on your behalf, and they can even make sneaky phone calls to premium rate numbers or download other apps and run up a huge bill. Most of the time, you will have no idea what’s happening.

How can you get a virus?

The four most common ways to get a virus are:

  1. Downloading infected apps. There are literally millions of apps for mobile devices, many of which are free. And many of them come with unwanted side-effects.
  2. Visiting compromised Web sites. If you’re surfing for you-know-what, then don’t be surprised if you catch the digital equivalent of an STD.
  3. Via email or text. Attachments in emails or texts can contain malware.
  4. Cross-infection from PCs. When you connect your device via USB, viruses on your computer can transfer to your mobile device.

What you should do

You should take the exact same precautions you would on your computer.

  • Be sensible about what Web sites you visit.
  • Think twice before downloading apps, and ensure you’re only using reputable ones. Look at the reviews, and check the warnings that tell you what you’re allowing the app to do. If in doubt, don’t download it!
  • Don’t click links in email or texts unless you’re sure they come from a source you trust and are safe.
  • Uninstall apps you don’t need – and definitely get rid of apps you don’t recognize. If you didn’t download it, then what’s it doing there?
  • Keep your data backed up. The solution to virus problems is often to do a complete factory reset, so you’ll lose everything stored on the device.
  • Don’t connect your device to any computer unless it’s known to be free of viruses.
  • Install anti-virus software. There’s a comparison of the top ten paid mobile anti-virus apps here. For Android tablet users, AVG make a good free app, which is the one I personally use. There are plenty of other free alternatives – go to your device’s app store, search for anti-virus software, and pick one that has a LOT of 5-star reviews.

If you’re a parent, ensure your kids are aware of the issues, and teach them what they need to do.

2 Comments

  • mariel 07.10.2015 at 5:48 am

    will it shut down if I unconsciously click the compromised web sites?

    • Phil Rice 07.11.2015 at 5:03 pm

      Hi Mariel. It would be unusual for the device to immediately shut down after visiting a compromised web site, but it is possible. More often, the deliverers of malware are not looking to break your device as much as they are looking to steal information, trick you into giving them money, or hijack the device to use for their own purposes. Have you been experiencing shut down trouble with a device and think it may be related to a compromised web site?

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