Bentley Home PC Support - Articles - Cellphone Insecurity


<< Back to Articles

Cellphone Insecurity

Occasionally I hear from people who've had some dodgy software installed on their phone - usually an Android phone, but sometimes Apple. Unfortunately this is almost always user error; either they inadvertently downloaded a dodgy app, or they were convinced to do so by a scammer. Dodgy apps themselves are fairly hard to come by. Both the Android and Apple stores are reasonably well locked-down, in terms of what they will allow in. While it's not unheard of that something will slip through, it's less likely than on the PC, where you can literally download anything and run it provided the OS doesn't detect a virus in it (there are attempts by Microsoft to lock things down further in Windows 11... but more on that another time).

Having said all that, dodgy apps seem to be easier to come by on the Android store, and the most common things I see pop up ads even when the apps themselves aren't being used. My guideline? Uninstall everything you don't need. And try not to install anything which contains ads (whether or not an app contains ads is always mentioned in the app description). It's tempting to select the first result when you search for something in the app store, but it pays to take the time to look at reviews, overall scores and the app description itself, rather than going in blindly.

What are the most common side-effects of dodgy apps? As above, usually ads, but sometimes increased power usage and lower battery life. This can be the result of the app using your phone to do 'crypto mining' (again... more on that another time) or even more nefarious stuff like being part of a malware attack network. But you don't really tend to see 'viruses' on phones, per se - so the use of antivirus software like McAfee or Norton is more likely to simply waste battery life. A good rule of thumb for detecting bad apps is: if you start seeing weird behaviour after installing a particular app, it's probably that app causing it.

Lastly I want to address some of the spookier stuff, like people side-loading hidden apps on other people's phones and then using those same phones to track them. Luckily that's not possible without physical access to the device itself, and without having the user's pin or swipecode. So if you're breaking up with someone or divorcing under adverse circumstances, it's probably a good time to change the passwords or pins on all your devices. Not out of paranoia, but as a precaution. The best course of action if you suspect a device is compromised is to factory reset it. You'll need to get your data and contacts off first, but at that point, doing that should be the least of your worries.

I'd like to mention sim-swapping attacks, but... more on that another time. Generally-speaking, be careful what you share publicly on social media and you should be fine. Google the subject if interested. All-in-all phones are pretty safe, provided you or someone else doesn't do something dodgy with them. Like all computing devices however, they have flaws, and there's always someone willing to exploit those flaws for their own gain.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

Click here to go back to the main page.

© 2022 Matthew Bentley. All Rights Reserved