Security, Revisted

I’m on a thread on G+ right now where people have asked to recommend an anti-virus, but then go on to discuss why they don’t think they need one with the Android OS.

So, for a moment, yes–if you never download anything and use the phone as you got it, or only write your own new stuff, then you don’t need anti-virus…in much the same way you do not need immunizations for anything if you stay in a locked room watching TV and eating Cheetos all day.

While that room with TV and Cheetos might be someone’s idea of a good time, most of us will need to go out, and the point (in my opinion) of having an Android phone is to download stuff and see what it does. To do that, I want to do it safely.

The Naked Security team ran a story in October (which I referenced in one of my October posts) about a Proof of Concept Android Malware that can make 3D maps of your home. This is just the stuff that academics and people who publish their results are doing. Then there’s the Android Malware masquerading as anti-virus and, of course, Malware masquerading as Angry Birds. So yes, there are at least a few bad seeds in the wild.

Additionally, a lot of freeware or add-supported programs have adware in them. Adware sort of walks the fine line between malware and acceptable add supported software in my mind: popping up notifications I cannot control, nor can I trace back to any specific new program, plus maybe doing things beyond what I agreed to when I installed it = malware to me. Anti-virus and adware management tools are required just to keep the guys who aren’t trying to steal your credit card number and buy a thousand inflatable boats…can you imagine whats out there that you can’t easily see/find?

But enough about people trying to infiltrate or take over your phone through software. Let’s chat about people that literally take your phone. This has happened to my 15 year-old-nephew twice at this point. Both were iPhones, though his new phone is a Samsung Galaxy S3 (I’m sure it has nothing to do with his aunt loving her own S3, Grace).

So, I recommend installing a program that will let you track your phone if it is stolen, physically. A lot of these programs incorporate anti-virus and back-up services, as well, just in case they get you digitally and physically.

There are a lot of programs on the Google Play and Amazon stores available to help you locate your phone, with features like locking your phone down (to make it no longer useful to the thief) to making the phone literally ring for help. Some let you take photos with the phone (so you can get an idea of where it is) and/or remote wipe the phone to protect your personal data. Most, if not all, use the GPS features of your phone to help pinpoint it.

Note: even if you know where your phone is because of one of these programs and you suspect you know who took it, unless that person is a kid of yours or in some way related, and sometimes even then, do not go alone to retrieve the phone. Especially in cases where you are going to a strange location, get the police involved. Stealing a phone is still stealing, and police officers are better prepared to take back your property than you are, no matter how mad you are about your loss of property.

To find a program for you, head into the Google Play store or the Amazon App Store and search for “find my phone.” You will be overwhelmed with items. I recommend going with something that has been around for at least six months and has reviews in the hundreds (preferably in the thousands). Have anti-virus available and running when you download, and try a few of them out to see what works best for you.

In the case of myself (and my nephew), I recommend and use Lookout Plan B. I have it installed already, but it is the only (currently) available “find my phone” app that can be installed after the phone has gone missing.You can remotely install Plan B to it, which will then cause the phone to automatically start and then send a location to you. After that, if you want to continue to track your phone, you can text “locate” to it from another phone. Again, I recommend installing BEFORE anything happens to your phone.

So there you have it: yep, Android has malware and viruses and adware (oh my) and there are nasty people out there who take your stuff. However, with a very little bit of prep, you can explore the world of Android software and the real, physical world, in relative safety…at least to your phone.

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