A virus on my smart phone?

Posted by Emily Krstulic

Photo courtesy of Luigi Rosa via Flickr.com


My dad is, for lack of a better way to say it, a huge computer geek (sorry, Dad!). Because of this, I am often assaulted with facts and figures about computers and the internet, most of which are about how easy it is for irresponsible internet use to destroy my computer. He seems to know everything about computer software and viruses, and has embedded in me a deep paranoia about any download, website, or link that I’m not familiar with.    

But when he said to me, just weeks after I had gotten an upgrade to a shiny new BlackBerry, that I needed to be just as careful with my smart phone, I scoffed at him. Viruses are for computers; when have you ever heard of a smart phone getting a virus? I went on my merry way, clicking Twitter links and doing my internet business as usual. But I kept hearing my dad in the back of my head. “Pretty soon, they’re going to get smart enough to make viruses for the internet on your BlackBerry.”    

Turns out, my dad was right.    


As the smart phone industry flourishes, viruses and malware have infiltrated the mobile web. But, instead of hitting smart phones the way viruses hit the internet- that is, being embedded in downloads or in mouse clicks on certain websites- they have hit us where it hurts the most: our apps. The reach for these applications is tremendous, especially ones that can be downloaded for free; the only limiting factor is the type of phone the app is created for. Andriod had a big issue this summer, finding that a wallpaper application had been transmitting users’ data to a sketchy site in China.    

These viruses are tailored specifically to what smart phones have access to. Newly developed “botnet” viruses, like the Andriod wallpaper app, can use information from the phone in malicious ways.  The virus can send the user’s contacts to a third party, or can send messages the user’s whole phone book, which can mean a lot of money on that next phone bill.    

Aside from making me paranoid, once again, knowing that these smart phone viruses are becoming more sophisticated really made me think about how much trust we put in these applications. I indiscriminately download free games for my BlackBerry if they show in App World, and I know I’m far from the only one. This is alarming because many people live on their cell phones; these viruses compromise everything from their contact lists to their personal and work email accounts and data.    

Have you ever downloaded a free application to your smart phone that came from a less than credible place? Will knowing that these viruses exist change the way you download to your smart phone?


One response to “A virus on my smart phone?

  1. Oh dear. One more thing to worry about. Are there any guidelines for determining whether an app is legit?

    This is a good reminder that it’s crucial to back up all the data on your phone. I use Droid’s free app, Lookout. It protects against viruses and hackers, and backs up all my data. The best part? If I can’t find my phone, I go to lookout.com’s site and type in my phone number. My phone then emits a siren so I can find it (usually deep in the couch cushions). If I lose my phone while out and about, Lookout can pinpoint it on a map.

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