Smartphones are ubiquitous in today’s society, but most people don’t really understand mobile security and everything that it involves.
This has resulted in widespread myths and misconceptions, some of which can be detrimental to one’s overall cybersecurity if taken at face value. It is time to debunk them.
1. Myth: Computers Are More Secure Than Smartphones
How many times have you encountered malware on your computer, and how many times have you encountered it on your phone? Exactly.
Yet it is not uncommon to hear arguments about desktop devices and laptop computers being more secure than smartphones. In fact, this misconception is rather prevalent, even among people who should know better.
In reality, smartphones are inherently safer than computers because they were built after the internet became available to the average person. The first version of the Windows operating system, for example, was released in 1985, decades before the first modern smartphones hit the market. Because of that, Windows (which runs the vast majority of computers) had certain security holes from the beginning, and still has many today.
Of course, smartphone apps are sandboxed, which makes it more difficult for malware to spread across a system. Plus, smartphones cannot be found through their IP addresses. In short, both Android and iOS phones are much safer and more secure than Windows-run desktop computers and laptops.
2. Myth: Mobile Security Apps Are Pointless
Among those who realize smartphones are more secure than computers, a common sentiment is that security apps are unnecessary. After all, why would you need such software if you’ve never even had to deal with malware on your phone? This is a legitimate question, but it is based on a false premise.
For a start, even if you believe your phone doesn’t need antivirus software, there are plenty of other apps that can boost your cybersecurity. Authenticator apps, for instance, are a great way to secure your online accounts and make them essentially impenetrable to cybercriminals. Password managers, network scanners, and encrypted messaging apps, meanwhile, can provide an additional layer of security to any device.
Then there’s also the issue of privacy, or lack thereof. Because privacy and security go hand in hand, using a secure and private browser, and having a reliable Virtual Private Network (VPN) app installed on your smartphone can make a huge difference.
3. Myth: iPhones Are Immune to Malware
The Android versus iOS debate has become something of a pop culture phenomenon, and it will never be truly settled. But one thing iOS users tend to bring up is their iPhone’s security. You can’t get a virus on an iPhone even if you try, so they claim. This is a myth.
While it is true that iPhones are far less likely to get malware than Android phones, that doesn’t mean they never do. And no, it is not just jailbroken iPhones that can be infected with malicious programs, though they are obviously more vulnerable to cyberattacks of all kinds by default.
To prove that iPhones can be hacked and abused, researchers at Germany’s Technical University of Darmstadt conducted an interesting experiment in May 2022. As Ars Technica reported, the researchers found a way to exploit the iPhone’s Bluetooth chip, which is key to running the device in low power mode, and infected it with malware.
Of course, there are also plenty of real world examples of malware spreading on iOS devices. For example, Lookout discovered in 2017 that a threat actor compromised the Safari browser, blocking it from working properly and demanding a ransom payment from their victims.
4. Myth: Apps From Google Play and the App Store Are Safe
As long as you download apps from certified stores like Google Play and the App Store, you should be safe, because all apps that end up there are carefully vetted. That is how the thinking goes, but the reality is much different.
Millions of applications are available on both stores, and hundreds—if not thousands—are being added every single day. Is it realistic to expect all of them to be safe? Of course not. Unsafe applications regularly slip through the cracks and end up in major stores, including the App Store, even though Apple has much stricter policies than others.
Downloading a compromised app can cause all sorts of complications, from annoying pop-ups and advertisements, to more serious problems like identity theft and unauthorized bank transactions.
Even some apps that are technically safe and don’t serve malware have major issues when it comes to tracking and privacy. Photo editing apps are a great example—many of them violate user privacy in different ways, collect and resell data, ask for unnecessary permissions, and have ties to autocratic governments.
Of course, none of this means you should download apps from third party stores. Google Play and the App Store are still much safer than those, but they are far from perfect.
5. Myth: Using a VPN Protects You From Tracking
When you connect to a VPN, the traffic on your device is encrypted and your real location spoofed, which makes VPN apps an indispensable tool when it comes to both security and privacy. This also means nobody can track you online, right? Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that.
A good VPN should do all of the above, but comparatively few actually do. Many free VPN providers keep logs and collect user information in order to sell it to third parties, such as affiliates and advertisers. Plus, they tend to disconnect, which defeats the entire purpose of having them installed on your phone. And these are just some of the reasons you need to choose your VPN provider very carefully.
On the other hand, even with a good VPN app, you can still be tracked through third-party cookies, browser fingerprinting, and such. In short, you have to make a real effort to minimize tracking, and that entails more than downloading a random VPN app.
Understand Smartphone Security to Protect Yourself
If you want to protect yourself online, you need to actually understand smartphone security, instead of relying on false, but widely-held beliefs and second-hand information.
With that said, it is also important to keep in mind that some smartphones are simply more secure than others, and make purchasing decisions based on that.