There are almost 15 billion mobile devices around the world — and cybercriminals are taking notice. There has been a significant rise in the development and deployment of mobile malware since the COVID pandemic, and more and more users are falling victim due to a lack of sufficient mobile security.
For many years, cybercriminals had little incentive to launch attacks against mobile devices, which had limited application and low adoption rates. However, today, mobile devices have surpassed traditional computers in use, and in response, hackers are increasing the number and complexity of their malware attacks. Read on to learn more about the most common types of mobile malware and what users can do to stay safe.
Viruses are some of the most well-known forms of malware on any digital device — so much so that many users wrongly assume that the terms “malware” and “virus” are synonymous. The truth is that a virus is a specific type of malware that is self-replicating; after a user mistakenly runs a program containing the virus, then the virus will send copies of itself to all other devices on the network and perhaps mine a user’s data for ways to reach even more victims. On mobile devices, that often means sending text messages with corrupt links or using social media to direct message friends and followers with virus copies.
Trojans are a variety of virus that is hidden inside a legitimate-seeming application, like the Greek soldiers inside the Trojan horse. Mobile Trojans are increasing in popularity amongst cybercriminals because they are some of the most effective ways to get malware onto users’ devices. Trojans are more common in third-party app stores, which are less thoroughly vetted for viruses, but more and more malware is being smuggled onto users’ devices through compromised advertisements in legitimate apps.
Another variety of malware that is common on traditional computing devices, spyware is designed to allow cybercriminals to collect information on users and their devices. Spyware rarely makes itself known; it tends to operate covertly, observing user behavior and amassing data that can help cybercriminals access valuable user accounts and data. This can be exceedingly useful on mobile devices, which users utilize for all manner of activities, from work to banking to social media.
Mobile adware, usually shortened to madware, is a frustrating form of mobile malware that is, in many ways, the opposite of spyware. Instead of operating quietly in the background, madware almost immediately makes itself known by pelting users with advertisements, which can make devices almost unusable. The malware generates income for the cybercriminal through its incessant advertising, and some advertisements might contain other types of malware that can afflict the user’s device. Because mobile devices tend to have smaller screens, navigating away from advertisements and eliminating adware can be difficult.
Over the years, mobile browsers have improved their security, but there remain several ways for cybercriminals to infiltrate a device through browsers. Applications that work with browsers, like PDF readers, tend to have vulnerabilities that cybercriminals target with specialized malware. In-app browsers are even weaker, so users need to be careful to avoid extensive web browsing through non-browser apps, like social media.
Almost regardless of the type of mobile malware in question, the best methods of avoiding it are the same. To start, all mobile users need to install comprehensive mobile security, which will continuously scan for threats, notify users of fraud and generally prevent existing and emerging forms of malware from negatively impacting the user experience. Even with mobile security installed, users need to be exceedingly judicious regarding how they utilize their mobile devices; they should download apps only from approved sources, like the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store, and they should interact only with messages from known senders, especially if those messages contain links or attachments.
Rates of mobile malware will only rise as the public’s reliance on mobile devices increases. The sooner users learn to recognize different types of mobile malware, the sooner they can develop the right strategies for overcoming it and avoiding it in the future.
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