5 steps to stop Malware on iPhone or Android: July 2017 edition

Today we're going to run down several ways in which the everyday average iPhone or Android smartphone user can avoid a virus. The rules are very simple, and they begin with the golden rule in software: "avoid that which is unfamiliar." Users that are inexperienced in software code or identifying reliable sources for legitimate apps should exercise a base level of caution at all times. It's not a matter of always being ON ALERT – but of being conscious of what one is doing with every tap.

Note that when I use the word "virus" in the title, I refer only to the sort of malicious software that captured the hearts and minds of the public in the 1990s, and thereby everyone forward. The correct term is malware – malicious software. This is a term that covers basically every evil thing that can worm its way into your smart mobile device.

1. Use official app stores ONLY

Devices using Android should only use the app store their phone was given when it was first turned on – generally this means the Google Play app store. There's a LOT of opportunity for 3rd-party app stores to insert malicious code into an Android smartphone given the ease with which an app is side-loaded. Do not download apps from 3rd-party sites. That means you, Uncle Louie.

The same goes for iOS – even though there's a much smaller window for malicious developers to jump through. If you're in a position where it makes sense to jailbreak or root a smartphone, you're on your own. At that point, you'll either be versed in knowledge of which apps are safe or not – and if you're not, there's a good chance you'll be baptized by fire.

2. Don't download virus scanners

Downloadable Virus Scanners: avoid at all costs. Virus scanners, bug scanners, security apps of all kinds available for download from app stores aren't worth the risk. At best, they'll tell a smartphone user what they already know: that the app they downloaded from an email is actually jammed full of malware. At worst, these "security" apps will contain malicious code themselves.

3. Lock the front door

The fingerprint lock on the iPhone is extremely secure, as is the fingerprint scanner on most major-brand smartphones released in the past several years. Even more secure than that is a simple 6-digit passcode. Your phone can only be trusted to keep your information safe if you lock it every time you put it down, in your pocket, or in your purse.

4. Trust your phone... to a point

The security software that comes with an iPhone or with a Samsung phone is above and beyond reliable for basic security needs. Downloading a security app from an app store – any app store, legit or not – is not something a smartphone user should do. Not unless they trust the developer and are certain that the app they're downloading is, indeed, from that developer.

5. Stay Suspicious!

While there's a lot to be said for the security given to a smartphone by its manufacturer, nothing is completely fool-proof. Avoid sending passwords over email, don't send any personal information to any person or service that's unfamiliar. Don't ever, EVER respond to an alert on your smartphone which prompts you to make a phone call – there is NO legitimate service which would EVER ask you to cold-call them.

You are right to be suspicious of your smartphone's ability to see and hear you. You are right to be suspicious of your smartphone's ability to share information and steal your passwords and personal details. Use your smartphone to communicate and play games, but don't go expecting it to hold your purse – we're just not there yet.