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Are Consumers Prepared for Mobile Malware?

Experts predict the same cybercriminals that once feasted on the spoils of desktop hacks are now trying to deploy mobile malware to your smartphone.

(TNS) -- Boobytrapped text messages that cause a recipient’s iPhone to crash are just the tip of the iceberg — smartphone malware is here, and it’s only going to get worse.

Reports emerged last week that a string of foreign characters in a certain sequence, when texted to an iOS device, would crash or nearly crash the device. This vulnerability is just a bug discovered by a security fanatic, but it could be exploited by anyone with malicious intent who wanted to crash a device. It’s since been fixed by Apple, but the firestorm — and the surprise — surrounding the text of death is telling.

People don’t think of their smartphones as computers that are vulnerable to viruses. But smartphones are computers, and the same cybercriminals that once feasted on the spoils of desktop hacks are now trying to deploy mobile malware to your smartphone.

How much risk we face depends on who you ask. Security experts predict we’re on the verge of a “mobile malware apocalypse.” The virus software maker McAfee says mobile malware grew by 112 percent in the last year, with the total number of mobile malware bots or samples exceeding 5 million in the third quarter of 2014.

Experts predict that ransomware — malware that threatens users for money in order to restore their divide — will be repurposed for mobile users as the number of PCs decreases.

On the other side of the argument is Verizon, which suggested in an April report that mobile malware is largely limited to “adnoyance” — advertisements that users are forced to watch and post no real threat other than being incredibly annoying.

The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. We’re in the early stages of mobile malware, and there are lots of security measures that can still be taken to head off a total mobile malware meltdown.

For now, the risk of mobile malware is much greater on Android. Viruses downloaded through apps are spreading like wildfire because Android’s app validation process has too many holes.

So how do you prevent mobile malware from getting to your phone?

First, make sure the apps you download are from well-known and well-reviewed publishers. This rule is especially important if you’re downloading from Google Play.

And all those new-fangled app stores that are popping up? Steer clear.

Lastly, keep your operating system up-to-date. Make sure to download bug fixes and updates — and it doesn’t hurt to put pressure on companies like Google and Apple to make sure they’re doing enough to scrub the apps that are sold in their app stores.

©2015 the Boston Herald, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.