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Can My Smartphone Get a Virus?

We're used to fighting off tricky viruses that try to infect our computers, but can smartphones get viruses too? They can! Tech Talker explains and gives tips on how you can protect your mobile device from malware.

By
Eric Escobar,
October 3, 2013
Episode #095

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Can my smartphone get a virus?

I hear this question a lot. It seems odd that we hear all the time about computers getting viruses or malware, but it isn't too often that you hear of a mobile phone getting a virus. But it happens. Phones are not immune to viruses.

That's why today, I'll be talking about phone viruses and vulnerabilities that affect the major phone operating systems such as AndroidiOSBlackBerry's QNX, and the Windows Phone.

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Hopefully, you've listened to my episodes on how to remove viruseshow to prevent them, and the different types of viruses your computer can catch. If you haven't, go ahead and do it now, I'll wait....

Why Are There So Many Infected Computers and So Few Sick Phones?

OK, so the main question is how could there be so many viruses infecting computers, but so few instances of infection when it comes to phones?

The answer lies in how you install software onto your device.

Generally speaking, if you want to install an app onto your phone, you will need to go through some sort of app store - such as Google Play for Android devices or the App Store for Apple iPhones.

When a developer signs up to submit an app to one of these marketplaces, they generally have to give up their personal information. When they submit their app, the code gets reviewed by the company in charge of the store. Only after a series of checks can an app be published in the store for users to download.

Now let's compare this process to computer programs. I could write a program right now and post it online. Anyone could download and run it against the wishes of their antivirus and that's it. There's no review of the code, no need for the developer to give up their personal information. While this makes developing software easier, it definitely makes for software that is much more insecure and troublesome.

However, even though there is a pretty rigorous review process for apps, things can still get by the checks that the reviewers use. This has happened for every store and when it is discovered the app is generally removed right away.

Another protection against malware in phones is that apps are kept separate from the main operating system. This makes it so the apps can't gain access to the operating system to make changes throughout.  Where things get sticky is when users jailbreak, or root their devices. Once they gain access to the inner functioning of their device, they can install programs that have access to the operating system, and install apps whose code hasn't been approved.

While this action gives you full control of your device, and can give you some pretty awesome features that the manufacturer left out, it can expose your device to malware. So how safe is your smartphone? Read on to find out.

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