Cellphone insecurity

Old telephone
Way of the future? No woes with this type of phone!

By Matt Bentley

Occasionally I hear from people who’ve had some dodgy software installed on their phone – usually an Android phone. Unfortunately this is almost always user error; either they deliberately downloaded a dodgy app, or they were convinced to do so by a scammer. Dodgy apps themselves are pretty hard to come by – both the Android and Apple stores are reasonably well locked-down, in terms of what they will allow in, and while it’s not unheard of that something will slip through, it’s less likely than on the PC, where you can literally download anything and run it provided the OS doesn’t detect a virus in it (there are attempts by Microsoft to lock things down further in Windows 11 – but more on that another time).

Having said all that, dodgy apps seem to be easier to come by on the Android store, and the most common things I see are ones which pop up ads even when the apps themselves aren’t being used. My guideline? Uninstall everything you don’t need. And try not to install anything which contains ads (this is always mentioned in the app description). It’s tempting to just select the first result in the app store’s search engine, but it pays to take the time to look at reviews, overall scores and the app description field itself.

What are the most common effects of dodgy apps? Usually ads as above, but sometimes increased power usage and lower battery life. Sometimes this is the result of the app using your phone to do ‘crypto mining’ (more on that another time), sometimes more nefarious stuff. But you don’t really tend to see ‘viruses’ on phones, per se – so the use of antivirus software like McAfee or Norton is more likely to just waste battery life. A good rule of thumb is: if you start seeing weird behaviour after installing a particular app – it is probably that app causing it.

Lastly I wanted to address some of the spookier stuff, like people side-loading hidden apps on other people’s phones and then using those phones to track them, that sort of thing. Luckily that’s not possible without physical access to the device itself, and without having the user’s pin or swipecode. So if you’re breaking up with someone or divorcing, it’s probably a good time to change the passwords or pins on all your devices. Not to be paranoid, but just as a precaution. A better course of action if you suspect a device is compromised, is to factory reset it. You’ll need to get your data and contacts off first, but at that point, that should be the least of your worries.

I’d also mention sim-swapping attacks, but that’s beyond the scope of this article – generally-speaking, be careful what you share publicly on social media and you should be fine. Google the subject if interested. All-in-all phones are usually pretty safe, provided you or someone else doesn’t do something dodgy with them. But like all computing devices, they have their flaws.

  • Need help with your flawed phone? Phone Matt at 021 1348 576 or email info@homepcsupport.co.nz
    $70 per hour, or $60 for drop-off-to-workshop services.
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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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