Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you
Australian technology news, reviews, and guides to help you

Do I really need internet security if I only use my phone?

We typically think of security for computers, and internet security for Windows and Mac, but what about phones: do you even need it for those?

Even though computers tend to provide a bigger experience for surfing the web, answering emails, talking to friends on social, and generally using the internet, we wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t use a computer as your main device. These days, it’s totally normal to more rely on your phone as your computer, than to simply use your computer.

Up until working from home became normal for everyone — thanks, coronavirus — younger generations might have been more reliant on their mobiles, and that should come as no real surprise. For many, phones have become that main device, partly because they’re always with you and they’re more capable than ever.

Marry a big screen, a solid camera, a fast system, and the fact that it’s always on, and you have a recipe for something that can replace a computer for many people, because they can do what they need to on the phone, rather than relying on a computer more regularly.

A computer still has its uses, and while companies including Samsung tried to convert the phone into a computer with DeX, you’ll still probably need a proper laptop or desktop if you want to get any work or schoolwork done. However for many, the phone is where it is, and they’re more than comfortable getting by on their phone for most of their life’s activities (beyond the work side of things).

So they’re on them all the time, and the phone is the place they live their digital lives. Do they need security on their phone, too? Do phones even come with the same security problems as computers?

Security on phones

While a phone’s operating system security can vary wildly on smartphones, security may still be one of those things that we need to think about on phones on the whole.

Mobiles do typically have a layer of security built in, and while there are more security exploits and forms of downloadable security issues such as malware and ransomware for computers, phones are beginning to become a hotbed focus for criminals, as well, albeit in different ways.

“There is a huge misconception that internet security is only a necessity for laptops and desktop computers, and not mobile phones,” said Alex Merton-McCann, Cyber Safety Ambassador for McAfee in Australia and New Zealand.

“The reality is that in our connected world, any internet enabled device can be targeted by hackers and scammers,” she said.

On phones, cyber criminals typically have to contend with the fact that the operating system is a little different and a touch more preventative. It means that while you can typically accidentally or inadvertently install a security exploit to lock down your computer on Windows or Mac, it’s more difficult on the iPhone’s iOS or other devices with Android.

In the world of iOS, an iPhone needs to have its apps installed through the App Store, which means an exploit can’t just be downloaded through the web browser and installed. That’s good, because it means your phone mightn’t be targeted the same way as would your computer.

Android is similar, and various Android phones have their own extra security layers over the top, though Android phones can also “sideload” apps quite easily by allowing an installation outside of the Google Play Store, and so a scammer might find a way to trick the user in getting through.

Beyond both of these, cybercriminals may actually be able to get their nefarious activities through the respective app stores on phones, because there are only so many things the app review programs for both Apple and Google will look at. It means that it’s possible to inadvertently download something that seems totally innocuous and innocent, and to have it actually contain a payload of drama. Typically, it gets taken down quickly, but it doesn’t mean it’s not possible, and has happened before.

“Cybercriminals are well aware we now heavily rely on our mobile phones to power the day-to-day particularly following the events of 2020,” said McCann to Pickr.

“Whether you are working, shopping, banking, learning, socialising or even entertaining, chances are it’s taking place online and often on phones. This creates a huge opportunity for malicious actors to cash in on our valuable, personal information or hijack our devices,” she said.

“This is only confirmed by recent Scamwatch reports that show, in 2020, Aussies lost over $3 million to scams delivered through text and over $20 million to mobile application scams. This is in addition to the over $138 million lost at the hand of scams delivered through email or social networking features commonly accessed via mobile phones.”

Scams are where much of the security concern is for phones

Security scam

Unfortunately for phone owners, the security dilemma for smartphones is still there, but in a different way from how it is on their computers.

In the world of Windows and Mac, you need to be careful you’re not downloading a program and running it, and allowing it to make a dent or take over a part of your computer. Email inboxes are getting better at weeding those out, for sure, but they still happen, and they can still have dire consequences. It’s yet more reason why having a form of internet security on your computer can be helpful, because security exploits can occur on any operating system, Windows or Mac, though Windows is known for having more.

But in the world of Android and iPhone, the security exploit game is a little different. As cybercriminals deal with the complexity of getting an exploit through, much of the damage will come from scams, and there are a lot of those.

Scams from criminals pretending to be JB HiFi and Australia Post, from criminals attempting to pass off messages from the government via MyGov and the ATO, as well as plenty of others. Scams and scammers are where the security dilemma exists for security on phones, because scams are regular and frequent, and can appear to be convincing depending on how something is worded.

While some scams are plagued with obvious spelling and phrasing issues, some of them can also be quite close, and one errant click could lead you to a familiar looking phishing website designed to ensnare your details simply because you didn’t think about what you were clicking on, or did and it looked remarkably close or similar. Scammers are getting good at this, and that’s a problem.

Fortunately, we’re all getting a bit better at being able to identify scams, and the problem they pose in terms of mobile security.

“Interestingly, Aussies are not oblivious to the cyber security threats currently plaguing mobile phones,” said McCann.

“New research from McAfee shows that over half [52%] of us are concerned about the security of our mobile phones, where only 45% are concerned about computer security, and 27% are concerned about tablet security,” she said.

“The next step is for consumers to translate this concern into action, find the right security solutions for them and their phone, and start protecting their digital lives.”

How do you protect your phone with smartphone security?

This all translates into an area that is gradually growing in the form of smartphone security. It’s been an area with available apps for both iOS and Android for quite some time, what with app checking, special security-focused web browsers, connections for virtual private networks (VPNs) to help secure your browsing, and social media systems checking to help make sure your phone and social presence didn’t have anything nefarious lurking on there either via social engineering.

However it’s not the sort of thing that will matter for most just yet. In fact, at least one of the major security apps we’ve tested offered very little for iPhone users, while providing more security options for those on Android.

On the iPhone, Norton’s app checked for security issues with the connected network, whether you had a password on your phone for device security, if the phone’s operating system was up-to-date, and whether you wanted to use a VPN or not. However it offered little else to really make it worthwhile for an iPhone owner.

Android owners with the same app saw app scanning added to the same package, handy given you might be installing apps that you’re not sure about, but again, a security app might not be worthwhile just yet.

It’s worth noting, however, that mobile security apps often come bundled in with security solutions for Mac and Windows PCs, meaning if you buy a license for one year on your laptop or desktop, you typically get your phone bundled in, as well, and can see whether phone security software is worth your time at all. Often it includes other features, such as backup software, password managers, parental controls, and social media scanners.

For everyone not looking at mobile security software just yet, it might be something on the horizon later on, however right now you should make sure to question those messages that make little sense and ensure you don’t click on things where the links seem questionable at best. Even with security software on your phone, it may not be able to stay on the watch for scams, and that’s where your knowledge and reading up on tips to combat scams is going to come in handy more than a security app for your phone.

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