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On the morning of the Fourth of July, I received a text message from my sister-in-law. It read:

“Hey, I just sent you a photo. Click the link to view my photo before it expires:”

Following the message was a link. Instead of clicking on the link, I wrote back to my sister-in-law, asking her if she really sent me a photo. I told her that I wanted to be sure before I clicked on the link. Almost immediately, she wrote back, telling me not to click on it. A friend had sent her the message and, when she clicked on the link, she did not get to see a photo. Her only prize was that a message was sent out to every one of her contacts. I have written before about computers being attacked. However, people tend to overlook how exposed to attacks smartphones are. Most people take the time to install anti-virus software on their desktops and laptops and tend to be more careful about what they install or what emails they consider to be valid and not spam.

Smartphones are a different animal. Perhaps because people refer to them as phones, they forget that they are mini-computers and possibly more risky than our desktops and laptops because there are more opportunities for a virus or malware attack. In addition to getting infected by an email or a bad search link, a smartphone can be attacked via various other routes, such as text messages (as my sister-in-law was), malware posing as an app in the app store or a scanned QR code that leads to a bad website. People keep a lot of information on their cellphones and this information is very vulnerable and can be stolen without anyone laying their hands on the physical handset.

There were several of reasons why I did not automatically click on the link that was ostensibly sent to me:

  1. The message was too generic.
  2. Why was the link going to expire? There are so many storage sites that are free, why would you have your photo somewhere where it would expire?
  3. Why didn’t she just send the photo? One of the many great things about smartphones is that you can send photos to people’s phones and you don’t have to send them a link, especially not for just one photo.

It is easy to talk about how smart you were when you have dodged a bullet but even computer security experts get attacked – hackers and makers of spam and malware put a lot of energy into getting into people’s systems. That said, it is always good to take preventative measures to minimize the risk of an attack and some tips are:

  • Be very careful about clicking on links in emails or text messages. If the link comes with a generic message, even if the message is from your best friend, check with the sender to make sure that the link is valid. It just takes a few moments and can save hours of the headaches that come with trying to clean up an infected system. Once they have confirmed that the message is from them, you will feel much better about clicking on that link. My friends now know that occasionally I will check with them and they are perfectly happy to send back a quick response.
  • Look into getting anti-virus software for your smartphone.
  • Be careful when loading apps on your phone. When installing an app, your app will ask you for permission to gain access to certain aspects of the phone. Read these requests and make sure you know what you are giving permission for. Also read the reviews for the apps to see if there are any warning messages about what the app may do to your phone once it has been downloaded.
  • Be aware of what you are scanning with your QR reader.
  • Regularly backup your smartphone. In this way, should you need to wipe it, for any reason, all that was on it has been recorded elsewhere.
  • Should your phone be attacked in some way, take it in to be looked at to make sure that any infection has been cleaned out – you don’t want to find out that some malware has been stealing data from your phone for months or that you have been incurring huge messaging fees because this malware is sending text messages our using your account.

The risk is there but it is a good idea to take steps to protect your phone and your sanity. Oh, and the sanity of your friends – I can’t imagine how the people who clicked on my sister-in-laws nefarious link reacted to having their phones invaded and their entire list of contacts being spammed.

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