PCs have always been vulnerable to digital viruses, and while phones are safer, they also have certain vulnerabilities to digital malware. Safeguarding yourself is critical to ensure that your financial and personal data is not misused or accessed by malicious third parties.
Our civilization has wholeheartedly adopted computers and the Internet in every nook and cranny of our lives. They are quite ubiquitous at this point, powering all the things that keep our systems running, including transportation, government, media, healthcare and education, among many others.
This transition was gradual, beginning with powering big corporations and small governments with room-sized computers, but quickly becoming compact enough to fit on a desktop and eventually shrinking to fit in our pockets!
With the power to digitally automate our tasks, from the biggest responsibilities to the smallest details, we have also inherited some hazards that can cause tremendous chaos. Unethical entities can spread malicious software (malware) to computers that create financial, intellectual and private distress.
These have been a staple of desktop systems since their inception, but you don’t hear as much about this issue in smartphones.
So, are smartphones immune to digital viruses? Let’s take a look.
What is a computer virus?
A computer virus gets its name from the biological viruses that exist in nature. Much like their namesake, they are parasitic programs that copy themselves and modify other programs of the computers they “infect”.
These viruses must be installed on an operating system, which is usually done by tricking the person into installing them. They are created by reverse-engineering the security loopholes that an operating system has, employing a variety of ways to exploit and harm a computer.
Damages caused by viruses range from trivial to catastrophic. A virus could do something as innocuous as making a key on the keyboard unusable, a minor frustration, but not one that causes a loss of precious resources. However, in other cases, the viruses could cause far more severe damage. This could be done by making it impossible to install new software, making existing programs unworkable, completely deleting user data (backups and hard drives), corrupting data and gaining complete admin access to the system, along with all the personal and financial information it contains.
Naturally, viruses cause immense financial losses to governments, businesses and individuals alike. Billions of dollars are lost through scummy software and hackers keep finding new ways to exploit and target the latest operating systems. Historically, Windows has been the most vulnerable operating system for a virus attack, but Apple has recently experienced a similar crisis in that regard.
How do they affect PCs?
As the advent of computing has progressed to dizzying heights so has the sophistication of hackers to exploit and manipulate these computer systems. The only barrier for them to cross, in terms of desktops and laptops, is to get their malware installed in a person’s computer.
They do this ever so slyly, by sending emails claiming exuberant rewards in order to get the person to click and install. They also front as innocent free software to a prospective user, displaying false claims just to get into the systems. They could also appear as seemingly safe add-ons with a legit software, helping them further pass into your system undetected.
Remote Access Tools
After being installed on the computer, they function as RAT’s (Remote Access Tools), which provide access to all the functions of the system. This could be catastrophic, as this would give access to the personal data and private history of the user to people who would not think twice before selling it. On top of that, they could gain access to webcams on the system, which allow them to snoop on the user’s private environment, extorting them for money or outright selling it to malicious entities.
If that’s the case, this danger should be the same with smartphones, right? It turns out that viruses for phones are not as common as they are for desktops, and phones are not affected by traditional viruses. However, viruses that can harm phone software do exist and there are ways to hack into a phone and harm it in various ways.
How can viruses affect smartphones?
Downloading apps on phones is safer than downloading programs to desktops, as the Android (Play Store) and iPhone (Apple store) platforms vet the app developers for risky activities. Before selling their app on these platforms, the developers must make sure they thoroughly follow the guidelines stated by these platforms. Only after that are the apps made available to users. This makes phones safer than PCs, but there other ways a hacker can get into your handheld device.
Also, between these two platforms, Android is much more vulnerable than Apple, as it is open source in nature, meaning that it is free for anyone to see the source code and identify potential attack points. On the other hand, Apple is a closed system and doesn’t let anyone look at their source code. This is not to say that Apple is completely secure, as hackers find ways to attack that company’s products as well.
Malicious third party apps
One of the most common ways that a phone could be attacked is through third-party apps. These are malicious apps that can get access to user data, opening users up to all sorts of malpractice. This is easier in Android, as the owner of the phone is allowed to install apps from places other than the Play Store. Although this is not a default setting, the user can change it if he feels the need to. Apple is more stringent in this case and only allows apps from its store.
Clicking on “phishing” links through emails and messages has been the staple way to spread malware for a long time and still continues to be popular for handheld devices. These links use clickbait to make a person open a link and through that connection will find a way to attack the device.
Downloading content from websites that are not secure also leads to malware invading the phone. This will also be the case if the phone is connected to an unsafe device carrying malware.
Tips to keep your phone safe
Phones have become the interface through which so many important actions are taken every day—making financial transactions, storing private and confidential data, and so many others. It therefore becomes paramount to safeguard yourself from unethical entities and it pays to make sure your phone is not vulnerable to any attacks.
First things first, never install apps from places other than the native platform, even if you have somehow changed the settings on your phone. Always look at who the developer of the app is, check out the other apps that they have created, and be aware if their actions are questionable in some way. Also, Android grants complete access to the user and allows you to view and change the source code. Don’t change or delete things that you don’t understand, as it may open up your phone to cyberattacks, making it much more vulnerable.
Don’t open risky links and messages on your phone, as they might prove very harmful. Do not download content from websites that are not secure; only browse websites that are safe and verified. Also, don’t connect your devices to unknown devices, as they might transfer malware to your phone.
Consider installing an antivirus program too! After all, your digital safety is paramount in today’s day and age, because as we have just explained, there is no such thing as total immunity from digital viruses.