Over the years, it’s become accepted wisdom that desktop computers require antivirus software to remain safe online.
Unfortunately, the same message hasn’t been successfully conveyed about mobile devices.
Considering most web browsing and email access takes place on phones and tablets, there’s a clear need for widespread adoption of smartphone antivirus software.
The threat is real
Owners of iPhones have historically claimed their devices don’t need protecting against malware or viruses, because iOS is more security-oriented than Android.
Yet last year saw a huge rise in the number of iOS vulnerabilities being patched, while 4,000 infected apps were supplied through Apple’s official store before anyone noticed.
Apple’s reputation as the most secure mobile operating system is increasingly being challenged by the cybercriminal fraternity.
As for Android, historic flaws in its Linux-based operating system dovetail with Google’s less robust approach towards app screening and monthly (rather than daily) security updates.
Android ransomware has been a particular problem in recent years, with malicious payloads buried within seemingly legitimate software.
Fortunately, most of these threats can be reduced – or eliminated altogether – by installing an antivirus package.
That’s especially important as we tend to rush through activities on our phones, rarely remembering to look for https website security or other trust marks.
However, choosing suitable smartphone antivirus software is often harder than buying a package for a PC.
For one thing, you’ll rarely see mobile-only antivirus tools being sold in high street shops.
Plus, some people still argue the walled-garden nature of Apple’s App Store makes antivirus software unnecessary.
Windows Phone or BlackBerry users are often excluded from the conversation entirely, even though hackers have historically targeted the Windows operating system.
Playing it safe
There are several elements any smartphone antivirus package should contain:
1. Constant updates.
Like their biological cousins, computer viruses are endlessly mutating and developing immunity against known treatments.
Your device could successfully repel a particular line of malicious code today, but fall foul of it tomorrow as the virus evolves.
There’s little merit in installing an antivirus system which only updates when you remember to run a database refresh, or that only connects to its host servers once a week.
Any decent antivirus package will be constantly downloading updates, in response to ever-changing threats.
2. Phishing protection.
Phishing is the process of obtaining people’s account information or login credentials by deception, and it’s on the rise.
Cybercrime cost UK citizens £4.6 billion last year, according to statistics from cybersecurity firm Norton.
A good antivirus package will contain an ever-growing directory of websites to avoid, and it’ll also recognise obvious attempts at harvesting sensitive information.
These might include pop-ups, phone calls from unknown numbers or emails with tell-tale signs of phishing
3. App scanning.
Once an app has been installed, it’s usually left to its own devices.
As a result, it could be quietly harvesting information or eavesdropping on your activities without you realising.
A powerful antivirus package will monitor each installed program, checking on its activities and looking for unexpected behaviour.
Even a legitimate app could contain malware, in the same way an official website might become compromised.
4. The ability to avoid false positives.
As its name suggests, this occurs when an app or website is wrongly flagged as compromised or dangerous.
False positives are hugely inconvenient, but the best smartphone antivirus packages are capable of avoiding them entirely.
Software manufacturers to have achieved a zero false positive rate during a four-week testing period include AVL, Sophos, Avast and Trend Micro.
5. Anti-theft tools.
This is often found in Apple antivirus software, which has less protection work to do than comparable programs on other operating systems.
Adding in anti-theft features helps to justify the fees charged for Apple antivirus packages.
Nonetheless, features like remote file deletion and device location are equally useful if you own an Android or Windows Phone.
Phone theft is declining as features like fingerprint recognition make unauthorised use more difficult, yet a third of thefts from the person in England and Wales last year still involved mobiles handsets.
Some antivirus packages can take a selfie of anyone trying to use a device without permission, before emailing the picture to a pre-selected email address.