The shift in Internet use from being largely computer-based to being more mobile-based has caused new fears to arise over whether phones are more susceptible to viruses than their non-mobile counterparts. Just this week, Honolulu-based ABC affiliate KITV reported on the dangers of mobile malware to unsuspecting consumers.
"Think of a smartphone as a computer in your pocket," Attila Seress, owner of SOS Tech Solutions in Honolulu, told viewers. "Adware…may take that information and siphon it off to a third party in a far away country. And then they can use that for identity theft."
But is the fire and brimstone of malware all it's cracked up to be? Others are saying those fears are largely overblown. For example, a Wired article published in April of this year reported that Verizon's annual breach investigations report showed no hard evidence that mobile malware is a viable threat.
"Contrary to claims from companies like Lookout that provide mobile security solutions and who have for years warned about the rapid and massive growth of mobile malware, Verizon found virtually no iOS malware for iPhones or iPads in the data it examined from Verizon mobile customers last year, and virtually no Android malware either," the article read.
Indeed, Verizon RISK team head Bryan Sartin told Wired that "truly malicious" code only affected 0.03 percent of Android devices each week.
Yet others continue to claim that mobile malware is a huge threat to everyday smartphone and tablet users. Computer security giant McAfee published a lab threats report in June 2014 illustrating the rapid rise of mobile viruses in mobile devices. Between the first quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014, the data shows, the number of mobile malware samples has increased by a staggering 167 percent. In addition, the amount of new malware floating around in cyberspace doubled over the course of one year.
It is sobering data like this that keeps consumers shelling out cash for mobile security measures. But are these measures effective? The evidence there is shaky. U.S.-based data security provider Imperva, with the help of a group of students from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, conducted a study that showed the initial detection rate of malware was only 5 percent. And this was using antivirus software from trusted brands like McAfee and Symantec.
"Existing methodologies we've been protecting ourselves with have lost their efficacy," Ted Schlein, investment partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, told The New York Times in 2012. "This study is just another indicator of that. But the whole concept of detecting what is bad is a broken concept."
So if studies show that malware detection software is not all that effective and other studies show mobile malware is not that big of a threat, is it worth bothering about at all?
The answer depends on how much the user is willing to gamble on the likelihood that he or she won't be attacked by malware. Even if you are convinced that your devices are safe from viruses and other malicious entities, it seems wise to at least download a basic software protector. This advice is especially useful for those with Android devices: According to a study by security specialist F-Secure, devices using the Android operating system are at the highest risk for malware invasion, with 97 percent of all malware worldwide found on Android phones and tablets.
So which form of malware protection provides the most bang for your buck? PCMag's list of the best antivirus software in 2015 named three winners: Webroot SecureAnywhere Antivirus, Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2015, and Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2015). In this case, you get what you pay for: Webroot's system costs $80 for one year's protection and Bitdefender's and Kaspersky's each cost $60. While these prices may seem hefty, the investment is worth it if your data is protected. Compromised data can end up costing you much more than $60.
But if you still don't want to shell out the cash for protection, there are other methods of precaution available. For instance, the Center for Internet Security suggests not jailbreaking your phone, as doing so can leave your phone vulnerable to security risks. Additionally, blocking web ads and not using public Wi-Fi can also reduce your risk of contracting malware on your device.
A last important note: Part of the reason malware is so feared is because those who design it are adept at keeping one step ahead of the game. As antivirus software becomes more advanced, so do the viruses it is trying to squash. While the above steps may not make your technology completely impenetrable to hackers, using the tools you already possess is a good start. As Attila Seress told KITV:
"Use your best judgment. If it doesn't seem like it needs it don't give it access; always good to be on the safe side."