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Security fail: Phones, tablets and other devices vulnerable to hackers and viruses

Published: Friday, Feb. 15 2013 9:50 a.m. MST

Another way criminals make money has nothing to do with people's checking accounts. Some malware sends SMS messages to premium services — short messages and digital content that charge fees to the phone. It is similar to the way scammers trick people to call expensive 900 toll numbers, except the malware sends the messages automatically and secretly. People learn about this problem when they see the huge extra charges on their phone bill.

Reducing the risks

Siciliano, naturally, encourages people to install security software like the kind his company, McAfee, offers. But he also says people can take other steps to help stop the bad guys.

Many people do not use passwords to protect their mobile devices. Siciliano suggests using different passwords for email accounts, a Facebook page and a banking account, rather than using the same password for all of them. He says it's also not good idea to keep passwords and other sensitive material on mobile devices.

Another way to reduce access, Siciliano says, is to turn off unnecessary connections. If people are not using WiFi, GPS or Bluetooth, they should turn them off.

Space Rogue says criminals are mainly targeting Android devices because the operating system is so similar to the PC. Hackers also have another problem: patches.

Whenever a new threat shows up, manufacturers scramble to create software fixes or patches to shore up security. With the iPhone, Apple automatically sends patches and installs them (Apple did not respond to a request for comment). Android devices, however, are less certain because once the patch is made available it is up to the various carriers to implement them. Sometimes they do not, leaving their customers vulnerable.

Criminal apps

One of the most common ways smartphones are compromised is through malware — software that has malicious purposes and is loaded without the user's knowledge. With mobile devices this means apps. It could be an app specifically designed to get personal information or to allow criminals to remotely control a person's phone. It could also be a popular app to which somebody has secretely added malware.

Third-party app stores are rife with malware and should be avoided, Siciliano and Space Rogue say.

Siciliano recommends that if people have Android phones they stick to the Google Play app store. For Apple devices, the iTunes store is the best choice. Both stores vigorously investigate each app for malware.

Children are especially vulnerable to download whatever app they find. Space Rogue says it isn't a bad idea to restrict downloads so children have to get permission to download something.

But even with precautions and shopping at the right app stores then something new could slip through. Space Rogue says there was a dramatic increase in mobile malware and viruses in the last quarter of 2012.

"The most important thing to do is to be aware," Space Rogue says.

EMAIL: mdegroote@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @degroote

Facebook: facebook.com/madegroote

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