Where your money goes, hackers are sure to follow — and that means from your computer to your phone. With the rise of mobile banking, shopping and other activities involving financial transactions, cybercriminals are ramping up their efforts to invade mobile devices. And their methods are rapidly evolving.
Until recently, fake mobile apps have been the most popular way for criminals to plant malware on phones, but because both Apple and Google have blocked or removed such apps from their official stores, this trick has become far less effective. But it has by no means disappeared.
In June, some players of the popular game “Fortnite” were duped into downloading a yet-to-be-released Battle Royale version for Android found through search. This problem will continue because the game’s developers just announced it would not make the new game available in the Google Play store, as it had for previous versions. We’ll see how this plays out, but in most cases, you should download apps only from the App Store or Google Play to avoid these scams.
As the window closes for malicious apps, hackers must turn to other methods, such as gaining access to text messages that may contain login information, or in a more direct attack called smishing. Like with phishing (fraudulent emails designed to get you to click on a malicious link or hand over sensitive information), smishing uses similar messaging delivered by text rather than email. These texts look like they’re coming from an official source, usually include some panic-inducing message — your cell phone service is being terminated unless you call a number or click on a link. And like with phishing emails, your best response is to delete the text. Do not click on links from unknown senders. No legitimate authority or company will use a text in this way.
In addition to remaining vigilant, iPhone users now have another tool to keep their phones safer and more secure. Malwarebytes has released an app for iOS that provides protection from scam texts, malicious websites, fraudulent calls and blocks ads and ad trackers. The free version includes ad blocking and disables ad trackers, while the paid version includes these two features, along with malicious site blocking while using Safari (the default browser on iPhones) and call protection that blocks incoming calls from known and suspected scammers, including “spoofed” calls that make their number appear similar to yours. The premium version includes a 30-day free trial period and then a subscription of $12 a year — the best deal I’ve seen and the only one that includes these four security features.
If Malwarebytes sounds familiar to you, it should. This is the single essential program for computer security that I have recommended and used since I began writing about technology. You should always keep a copy of the free version on a USB drive in case of an emergency. If your computer is locked down by malware, you can run Malwarebytes from the drive and usually get rid of the infection. I say usually because there are no guarantees when it comes to eliminating computer malware, but Malwarebytes successfully removed threats from my computers over the years.
To install Malwarebytes for your iPhone, open App Store and search for Malwarebytes. Be sure to look for the stylized “M” icon because there may be an ad listed first, so be sure you’re tapping on the correct app. Tap to install and then open the app. You will have to adjust your phone’s settings to activate the app’s features, but Malwarebytes provides simple instructions.
Once you have activated text message filtering, you will notice your texts are now divided into two tabbed groups: “Contacts & SMS” and “Unknown & Junk.” The first tab includes text messages from people in your contact list plus messages from companies that you have subscribed to, like Twitter. The second tab includes texts from people not in your contact list and suspicious texts identified by Malwarebytes. The app forwards fraudulent texts from known scammers or texts containing phishing links to this junk folder.
You may also want to block ads and prevent trackers from recording the webpages you visit. Remember, this will only work in Safari. If you use a different browser on your phone such as Chrome, it will not block ads or prevent tracking. Malwarebytes blocks all ads, and frankly I’m not a fan of ad blocking. While I agree ads can be distracting, it’s the only way for owners of websites to make money while leaving their content available for free.
The premium features provide good protection from two prevalent threats — scam calls and malicious websites. There’s no end in sight for either of these, so the $1 a month investment is a small price to pay for the extra security.