Many of the security threats we're seeing on phones today are very similar to computer-based attacks. For example, you've probably heard about phishing, where you receive an apparently legitimate email that tries to trick you into revealing personal information. Often these notices seem to come from a bank, alerting you to a change in your account and providing a link to get further information. Follow it and you're asked for your online banking username and password, handing over access to the criminals who actually sent out the bogus notice.
Today this type of attack has gone beyond email to text messages and even prerecorded calls to your cellphone. This phone fraud has been dubbed "smishing" (combining SMS text messages with phishing), a funny name for a serious problem.
Another security problem that spans laptops and smartphones is Wi-Fi sniffing. It's not very difficult for someone to intercept your Web traffic over a shared Wi-Fi connection. And with so many places now offering free Internet access to customers, it's impossible for you to know whether the network you're using has appropriate security installed on the back end.
Yet another smartphone vulnerability is similar to problems encountered when clicking on shortened links on the Web. When someone wants to post a link on Facebook, for example, but the address is long and complicated, they'll often use a service like Bit.ly to create a more manageable, shortened address. Problem is, you have absolutely no idea where that unreadable link will lead until you click it, a fine way to reach a malicious Web page. On the smartphone side, the new twist is using QR tags for the same purpose. You've probably seen these rectangles full of tiny black and white squares in advertisements. Using your cellphone camera to read a QR code can take you to a website with information about a product, or a movie trailer or a special offer. Or it might take you to a site just waiting to load malware on to your phone.
Fighting Back With Software
Fortunately, Android users can install security software to cope with both malicious software problems and the danger of losing a phone full of sensitive info. Some of these solutions are available for free, to a greater or lesser degree. Norton Mobile Security Lite, for example, is a free download with basic antivirus and limited lost-phone protection enabled. Unlocking malicious website identification and the full array of lost phone features runs $30 a year, a typical charge for this type of software.