How to protect your smartphone from viruses and malware

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PHOENIX – With more and more people using smartphones, there’s a growing concern about the potential for viruses.

While browser-based viruses are rare and blocked fairly easily, the same thing cannot be said of apps. The installation of apps is the biggest vulnerability for smartphones when it comes to contracting viruses. The more appropriate term here is malware – malicious software – because malware doesn’t jump from phone to phone the way a traditional computer virus spreads.

One thing you can do when considering apps for your smartphone is let the reviews be your guide.

“A general safety tip is when a brand-new app comes on and it only has a few reviews, it’s possible that there are some sneaky things going that they [Apple and Google] haven’t discovered yet,” said Ken Colburn of Data Doctors. “Let a few hundred, few thousand people come in and say, ‘This is what I like and don’t’ like ….”

There is some level of comfort for iPhone users because unless their phones are “jailbroken,” they can only install apps via iTunes and the App Store. Apple is very careful about what is allowed in the App Store. While malware can sneak through the reviews, it’s relatively rare.

Android is a more open – and more popular -- platform, which means users are at more risk. They can install apps not only from Google’s Android Marketplace, but also from any website out there.

Both Google and Apple have the ability to remotely delete a malicious app from your smartphone should one be discovered in their respective stores. Such a “kill switch” only works if the bad app was installed from the store. In addition, it won’t work on jailbroken iPhones, which have had all of their protective/restrictive control removed.

The big concern, however, is that once a malicious app has accessed your information, it can send it off to a remote location. Even if the app is deleted from your phone, your private information is already out there and the damage done.

For Android users, Colburn suggested a free mobile security app called Lookout. Not only can it warn you about potential malware, it also offers a variety of features, including backups and remote wipes. Lookout is also available for BlackBerry and Windows Mobile.

If you have a new tablet or smartphone, one very simple thing you can do to protect yourself is activate and set up your access password. Colburn said most people don’t do this and it can cost them dearly.

“It’s the biggest mistake people are making out there,” he said. “Do this today.”

The biggest thing to remember when it comes to protecting your smartphone from malware is that the best defense is a good offense. Install updates as soon as you possibly can as these updates often contain the latest protection. In addition, you should avoid installing apps from websites you don’t absolutely trust.