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11/29/2013
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Android Security: 8 Signs Hackers Own Your Smartphone

Security experts share tips on how to tell if attackers are in control of your Android smartphone.
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Searching for signs of Android infection

Image (derived) courtesy of Flickr user .RGB..
Image (derived) courtesy of Flickr user .RGB..

How can you tell if your Android smartphone or tablet been pwned?

That was the question recently posed by one InformationWeek reader, who suspected that her phone had been compromised by attackers. "I've only owned my Droid phone for two months and had a Trojan horse panic attack, and wiped my phone," she said via email.

Can you tell by observation alone if your Android device has been infected with malware? On Windows PCs, for example, some types of infections leave no signs at all. Conversely, some virus, malware, and Trojan infections -- as well as adware and spyware -- may slow systems to a crawl, begin redirecting browsers to arbitrary websites or search engines, trigger pop-up ads, block access to information security websites, disable security software, alter the user interface, or email everyone in your address book, leading to a flurry of outraged emails, bounce-backs, and warnings from recipients. 

As with some Windows infections, some types of Android malware might sport telltale signs of infection. For example, the reader -- who asked not to be named -- said she became concerned when a text message preview appeared on her lock screen, then mysteriously disappeared and couldn't be found. Perhaps not coincidentally, she'd also recently installed an app -- but not from the official Google Play store.

"What happened was I downloaded an app from a non-Play store site -- against my better judgment. Then not too long after I was looking at some article about security issues, and I had something really bizarro happen," she said. "A text notification with a partial preview flashed in my notifications bar and then vanished -- from a number not in my contacts. ... I went into my text messages app to try and read the full message, and it wasn't there. At that point I panicked and was convinced my phone must be hijacked -- even though nothing else seemed amiss -- and just wiped it." 

But was her phone infected? And if it was, how might other Android users spot a malware attack? Recent versions of the Android operating system, as well as mobile antivirus software, can help spot and block malware-infection attempts. But neither approach is infallible. So no matter which security tools you might be using, be sure also watch for the following telltale warning signs:

 

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Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Ninja
12/2/2013 | 10:36:22 AM
Re: You Can't Fix Stupid
That's certainly true about stupid, and that some people download shady apps on a whim. However, legit apps ask for so many permissions now that I think the average user gets numb to it. I can see why a couponing app needs location data, but why does a game need to know if I'm at a mall?

App makers should stop with the "permissions bloat" -- that would be a big step toward helping people be more aware and selective. But given retailers' and vendors' hunger to collect more and more data, will that bloat reduction ever happen? Color me skeptical.
Mathew
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Mathew,
User Rank: Apprentice
12/2/2013 | 5:45:57 AM
Re: MISCONCEPTION
Thanks for the terminology catch, IamWayne (brain freeze on my part); yes jailbreaking an Android is usually known as rooting it.

In terms of rooting your phone making it more vulnerable to attack, I respectfully disagree. Rooting your phone means that more apps will be able to run with root-level privileges. This increases the chance that your device can be compromised, or that a compromise will have more severe repurcussions. 

The caveat, of course, is that if you know what you're doing, then your risks likely decrease. Likewise, it's great to nuke the bloatware installed by carriers. But the takeaway is that if you don't know what you're doing, then you're probably better off not rooting your phone.

In terms of the risks of rooting being a lie "perpetrated by those in the media," as indicated in my piece, this analysis comes via Marc Rogers, principal security researcher for mobile security firm Lookout. His analysis, by the way, is not an outlier.
shakeeb
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shakeeb,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/30/2013 | 12:36:39 PM
Re: You Can't Fix Stupid
Furthermore as an additional feature, appropriate protocols are used to protect sensitive data at the network level.
shakeeb
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shakeeb,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/30/2013 | 12:29:00 PM
Re: You Can't Fix Stupid
Great article. However as per the reading I have done, security features are built into the operating system itself to reduce the frequency and impact of security issues.
elysian
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elysian,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/30/2013 | 8:31:57 AM
You Don't Jailbreak Android: You ROOT It.
Jailbreak is for iOS.
J_Brandt
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J_Brandt,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/29/2013 | 3:12:51 PM
You Can't Fix Stupid
Some great tips.  Sadly many of the people I know who download apps on a whim, who don't bother to read the service agreements, would not have the gumption or ability to dig deep to find any patterns or issues.  To quote Ron White, "you can't fix stupid."  They might notice the battery drain :)
IamWayne
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IamWayne,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/29/2013 | 9:54:44 AM
MISCONCEPTION
Some of this is good information. However, the part about as you call it "jailbreaking", in Android it's called rooting. That does NOT make your phone vulnerable. That is a LIE that has been perpetrated by those in the media who do not have a clue. There are many advantages over rooting your Android phone as apposed to leave the malicious mobile carrier bloatware on it. Please research your articles and stop mis-leading the public with misconceptions.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/29/2013 | 9:19:36 AM
Smart Android tips
Great tips on Android pawnage, Mat. Anyone want to share your earliest clue your Android was in hacker hands?
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