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Cybersecurity experts weigh in on the basic rules to protect your smartphone and other personal devices from malicious software
In 1971, Bob Thomas, a programmer for the technology company BBN Technologies based in Cambridge, United States, created the world’s first computer virus. It was called the Creeper program. The Creeper virus was harmless, designed as an experimental security test to see if a self-replicating program could work. According to a blog on the history of computer viruses by global cybersecurity company Kaspersky, with each new infected hard drive, Creeper would attempt to remove itself from its old host. It would display a simple message: “I AM THE CREEPER. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN!”
Fifty years later, the digital world is full of all kinds of cyber threats that are not so easy to detect. Viruses have been replaced by malware. For example, a highly advanced malware called FluBot recently started affecting Android users in the US, Europe, and then Australia. It is spread through a normal SMS, causing users to click a fake link, claiming to be a missed phone call, voicemail, or even an SMS from popular logistics delivery brands. When you click on this phishing link, the malware is downloaded to your device. According to the Global Threat Index of the international cybersecurity solutions company Check Point for August 2021, FluBot, once installed on your device, can access all your confidential information.
That’s what different types of malware do, be it computer adware, cryptojacking malware, botnets, rootkits, or spyware. Designed to mislead users, they can come from multiple sources, and the threat has only increased during the pandemic. From March 2020 to July 2021, Kaspersky identified more than 5,000 pandemic-related phishing websites designed to steal user credentials and other private data and prevented more than one million users from visiting those sites. It’s important to stay alert, stay up-to-date with phone and app updates, and take all possible precautions, such as avoiding public Wi-Fi networks.
If your smartphone has been affected by malicious software, it is more likely to show up in the basic performance of the device. The same goes for PCs, experts say. “When you notice your smartphone or PC suddenly slow down or witness the phone battery drastically draining or heating up, consider this a red flag,” says Judith Bitterli, senior vice president of consumer spending at the cybersecurity company. McAfee. .
Bitterli says that the malware consumes system resources, creates conflicts with other applications, and uses your data or internet connection to pass your personal information to the perpetrators. “If you have trouble turning your devices on or off, hang frequently, or tend to see more random pop-up ads than usual, or notice unknown charges popping up, that’s a sign that your device could be compromised and not just getting old. “Bitterli says in an email. Pop-up ads, which appear on unfamiliar websites, are now designed in such a way that the moment you click on any of them, a virus or malware automatically downloads and starts running. on your phone or PC.
Since smartphones are now connected to and controlling multiple devices in our homes, they have become even more attractive targets for cybercriminals, key targets for ransomware developers and identity thieves.
Previously, the goal of computer viruses and malicious software was to interrupt your work. But now malware is designed to generate money, or ransom, from a user. Since many of us now work from home, away from the safe technological environment of a workplace, cases of adware and ransomware attacks have increased, says Rahul Tyagi, co-founder of California-based cybersecurity firm Safe Security. “The number of hacks we’ve seen on the Android platform is much higher than on iOS,” says Tyagi. “One of the signs (if your device is compromised) to watch is your data usage. Sometimes data syncing takes place in the background and is not visible to you. Also watch out for calls and texts that you didn’t make or send. “
Another common sign of a compromised smartphone is apps that crash too often, says Ritesh Chopra, director of sales and marketing for the field, India and SAARC countries, at NortonLifeLock, the consumer cybersecurity company. “The programs you use on a daily basis may refuse to open at all. There are many other signs. For example, you may not have substantial data, music, or images on your device, but there is still little or no storage left. These are very early and common signs, ”says Chopra.
Many of us have worked on devices, both phones and PCs, where the holy grail of security was good antivirus software. But there are some other basic tips that can help you avoid malware. The first and most obvious is to keep your operating system and applications up to date, no matter what device you use. Regular software updates from your smartphone manufacturer can not only stop malicious software from working, but can also fix any vulnerabilities on a device that is already affected by malware.
Be aware of the sites you visit and avoid clicking on unfamiliar links, specifically those that offer free screensavers or other unusually generous offers and promotions. Your inbox is another potential source of input – don’t click or open any emails or attachments from unverified senders.
Another common mistake many of us make, according to experts, is using public Wi-Fi networks without a proper VPN or virtual private network connection. “People are often confused between VPNs and a web proxy. A proxy protects only your browser data, not external applications. But if you install a VPN, all the information that enters and leaves your system is protected and encrypted, ”says Tyagi.
In the case of smartphones, two-factor authentication and stronger passwords offer an extra layer of protection, but Bitterli says users should also avoid public charging stations, as hackers have been known to install malware. in them.
Smartphone applications are essential. Ditch the old apps and always stick to the official app stores while downloading the newest ones, Bitterli says. Apps downloaded from any third-party store, other than the Play Store or App Store, do not go through a review process and could allow malicious software to access your device.
It is a good idea to periodically check smartphone applications and permissions. For example, why would a simple smartphone game or food delivery app require permission to view your contacts, messages, or photo gallery? “There are at least 60 apps on the average Indian’s smartphone,” says Chopra. “What are these applications doing on the backend? A user needs to keep track of this. Technically, the computer virus is dead. The whole focus has shifted to the malware. “
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