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Smartphones are just as susceptible to viruses and hacking as computers.

Akos Stiller, Bloomberg

Alexander: Smartphones aren't safe from viruses

  • Article by: STEVE ALEXANDER
  • Star Tribune
  • March 11, 2014 - 5:49 PM

Q: I recently received a smartphone text message containing a link to a website. On my PC, I would immediately delete such spam without opening it. But I thought it could do no damage on my smartphone, and out of curiosity opened the link. The browser flashed different Web addresses that appeared to be reroutes before eventually going to a women’s health site. Afterward, I started getting bounce-back e-mails from people on my contact list that were either out of the office or had new addresses. The message, apparently sent by me to at least a dozen people, had a link to another website.

Is it possible to get a virus through your smartphone?

Dennis Todd, Red Bluff, Calif.

 

A: Yes, and it appears that your phone has gotten one. The attack you describe resembles that of the “NotCompatible” virus, which takes over your phone. It can steal your contact list so it can send the same scam e-mail to your friends. As a general rule, you shouldn’t risk your smartphone by opening a strange website link any more than you would risk your PC.

Depending on what kind of phone you have, download a security program from either Google Play (Android) or the Apple App Store that can remove a virus.

So far, it appears that more of the malicious smartphone software is aimed at phones using Google’s Android operating system than at Apple’s iPhone. This is not surprising considering that there are far more Android phones. Research firm IDC found that Android phones made up 78 percent of worldwide smartphone shipments in the fourth quarter of 2013. Apple made up less than 18 percent.

 

Here are some follow-up questions about the end of Microsoft’s Windows XP security updates in April, which will leave PCs with XP vulnerable to future hacker attacks.

 

Q: What’s the worst thing that can happen if I keep using my Windows XP PC after April?

Ken Kaufman, Skaneateles, N.Y.

 

A: Your computer could be taken over by hackers and become part of a botnet, a group of hacker-directed PCs that can be used to attack websites and send spam e-mail. Someone could steal information from your PC, or remotely lock your PC and charge you to unlock it.

 

Q: Can I get antivirus or other software to protect my Windows XP computer in place of Microsoft’s updates?

Several readers

 

A: No. Security updates for Windows XP are only available from Microsoft, which is discontinuing them. Antivirus software updates protect against new viruses, but don’t protect against newly discovered vulnerabilities in the Windows operating system.

 

E-mail tech questions to steve.j.alexander@gmail.com or write to Tech Q&A, 425 ­Portland Av. S., ­Minneapolis, MN 55488. Include name, city and telephone number.

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