Are You Practicing Safe Mobile Downloads?

Prepare for another wave of questions and fear mongering about malware and viruses on your mobile phones. Yesterday,¬†Kaspersky Labs said that Android handsets (s GOOG) could download malware that allowed the phones to sign up for texts and make calls to premium numbers — costing users money. Last week, there was a scare regarding a malicious app that allegedly downloaded your contact information and sent it to websites in China, though Google¬†later said this wasn’t true.

Those sanctimoniously clutching their iPhones (s aapl) can stop waggling your fingers, because the iPhone, too, has its security exploits. On jailbroken¬†handsets, firms have exploited security holes in Apple’s Safari browser to give the iPhones unfettered access to the Internet. The stage is set for a grand freak-out whereby the security companies inform people their smartphones are just like computers and thus vulnerable to attack before pitching a product folks can buy in order to stave off said attacks. It worked for PCs.

But before we run over to the app store for our dose of Norton antivirus, there are some reasonable and even recommended practices that consumers can take to keep their handsets clean. All involve a little inconvenience, and traditionally, people will give up security — and even privacy — for the sake of saving themselves a few steps. Just in case anyone is willing to go the extra mile — or a few feet, really — here are a few steps you should take to secure your Android handset. (Sorry Apple users, I’m an Android gal, plus the Android Market isn’t as well-policed as the App Store.)

How to Secure Your Android Handset

  1. Install or turn on the PIN or swipe security system on your phone that prevents anyone from picking it up, swiping it, and checking your email. Yes, it’s a pain to enter the PIN or swipe the correct pattern while trying to text and drive [Ed. note: texting while driving is not only unsafe, but illegal in many places], but it stops your friends and foes from tweeting from your account if you leave your phone unsupervised.
  2. Go read this article that tells you exactly what different permissions on the phone mean, so when the wallpaper app you downloaded from the Market asks for your contacts, you can raise your eyebrow and find one that doesn’t. Maybe I should include that step 2 also requires that you read what each app you download wants to access before you download it.
  3. Before you download something from the app store, do a quick web search to see if anyone has thrown up a warning or two about the app’s quality. It’s a smartphone. It has the web. Use it.
  4. If you’re still losing sleep, or you’re not inclined to practice safe downloads, install an app like Lookout or DroidSecurity’s Security Suite to help you spot and stop malware.

Happy surfing.

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