Know Thy Enemy (and Smartphone Vulnerabilities)

Security ranks as a top concern among Android users, so why aren’t they safeguarding their phones?

Around the world, mobile phones have not only made consumers’ lives more convenient, but now are very much a necessity and even a lifeline. From sensitive data like phone numbers and emails, to photos and bank account numbers, our smartphones are often our link to doing business and connecting us with family and friends. It’s that kind of information that hackers want to get their hands on. Personal and private data is potentially being exposed to malware attacks and security breaches on a daily basis. And the likelihood of an attack on one’s mobile device is growing—almost by the minute.


A Disconnect Revealed
A recent survey shows most consumers know their phones are vulnerable, yet many of those same people aren’t taking steps to protect themselves. The “Android Security Survey” was conducted informally by mobile antivirus app for Android users, 360 Security. More than 90 percent of respondents say mobile security is “very important,” yet nearly half of those surveyed currently are not (or unsure if they are) using a security app on their smartphone.
The results show that the majority of people are doing very little—if anything at all—to protect their Android devices. According to the same survey, two-thirds of respondents say they are aware of weaknesses on the Android platform. Top concerns for users include:

  • Untrustworthy apps (27 percent)
  • Online payments (20 percent)
  • Hackers (13 percent)

Security on the platform is complex, but hackers are finding ways around it. In July, the Stagefright flaw opened the door to hackers to install a spyware app on a user’s phone without their knowledge, simply by sending an MMS. The exposure was massive—nearly 95 percent of Android phones were vulnerable. The attack raises the question: How does someone prevent this and other similar attacks from affecting their Android device?

The answer is two-fold … one part people understanding their phone’s vulnerabilities, and another part using that knowledge to protect their devices. And you don’t have to be an expert to protect your phone. Using safeguard tools and apps on a device provide the best protection against malware, spyware and other viruses. In fact, Android security apps include a host of tools that detect and nullify threats to the system.

After installing a security app, it instantly goes to work with real-time scans to safeguard a device from the threat of infection. Not only can it identify idle background apps that may be affecting the battery life of the phone, but it can also detect and fix vulnerabilities before a user even sees the problem.

Android devices in particular can be susceptible to system vulnerabilities and malware. Some security apps have double anti-virus engines to ensure the device it’s protecting is secure. The local engine checks the apps based on their activities and deletes malware that could potentially harm the device. Meanwhile, the cloud engine leverages a malware database and scans apps downloaded on the device in real time, ensuring there aren’t any threats to security or data.

Slow Updates
Users with Android version 4.4 and earlier (representing 80% of all users) are especially in need of a security app as their devices are exposed to various vulnerabilities, but carriers are generally slow in updating security settings. Keeping an eye out for the latest version of an anti-virus database, with both on-device and cloud anti-virus scanning capabilities, can play a large role in keeping an Android device secure. Providing instant solutions and products for system vulnerabilities is just one of the benefits to having a security app installed on your device.

This survey confirms what many consumers already know—that there are vulnerabilities on the Android platform. But there are also ways to avoid falling victim to these security threats. So what’s the key takeaway? Installing a security app on your Android device adds an extra layer of protection that might mean the difference between keeping your precious data safe and secure. Users not running antivirus apps on their Android devices are potentially setting themselves up for problems that can be easily avoided.

headshotXu Xin is chief mobile security expert of 360 Security. His career began in 2005 after he received an M.E. in Computer Science from Beijing Institute of Technology. He has been involved in almost every major sector of mobile technology, including app development, frameworks, HAL, drivers, communication protocol stack and the network topology. Xu joined 360 Security in June 2014 and has supervised the launch of the Global Antivirus Engine and Region-specific Cloud Security Program. He is committed to driving cutting-edge technical innovations in mobile security.

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