Mobile malware puts your identity at risk

Nearly 33 million smartphones hacked last year

Author: Matt Papaycik, Producer, mpapaycik@wkmg.com
Published On: May 24 2013 11:30:23 PM EDT   Updated On: May 25 2013 12:35:31 AM EDT
ORLANDO, Fla. -

These days, we do everything on our phones -- banking, shopping, e-mail and taking picture after picture of our kids.

Experts say that we often forget that our smartphone is a mini-computer. And, if you're not careful, your personal information can easily end up in the wrong hands.

"It was a nightmare, it was a living nightmare," says Maritza Gonzalez, an Apopka mother who had her Samsung hacked. At times, she says, it was like the phone had a mind of its own.

"It could dial itself out, it could go onto your Facebook page, you could see it go into my gallery and look at my pictures," says Gonzalez. "I got freaked out."

Her only option was to buy a brand new phone and learn a hard lesson about cyber security.

"It's an overwhelming feeling of not being able to protect yourself," says Gonzalez.

If new numbers tell us anything, it's that no one is safe from an attack. According to the tech company, NQ Mobile, nearly 33 million smartphones were infected last year with what's called "malware."

"The more devices that we have, obviously, that gives more opportunities for the bad guys to do their dastardly deeds," says Don Benson, the director of the IT department at Keiser University in Orlando.

Benson says a hacked phone gives crooks easy entry into your private life.

"They can have access to your password information, they can grab your keystrokes," says Benson. "You go into your banking, and you have a zero balance, you go, 'How did that happen?'"

Malware gets onto your phone when you download a malicious app. That means you should not assume every game or program is safe.

"Read the reviews," says Benson. "There will be several reviews that will say, 'This is bad, this is malware.'"

Also, just like a computer, your phone can get hacked if you click a link or open an email attachment that's infected. Benson says, when in doubt, delete the message before clicking anything.

And, of course, download antivirus software onto your phone. Benson recommends a program called "Lookout," which is free.

"We want to pay attention to what we're downloading, we want to pay attention to what we're reading on our email," says Benson. "We just have to be more aware of what we're doing."

Maritza Gonzalez now swears by that advice, but still worries that she's a target.

"I think twice about what I'm doing, what I'm looking at," says Gonzalez. "They can be watching you.  They know where you live.  They know where you work."

The type of phone you have can also make a difference. Benson says Androids are more vulnerable than iPhones because of their security features.

If you think your phone has been infected with a virus, take it to your carrier right away so they can reset it.