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Mobile adware is frustrating and persistent - as the app market stands, it is almost impossible to know whether or not the product you are downloading will be beneficial or compromise the security and functionality of your mobile device. Free apps are appealing. No one wants to pay for an app that seems fun, but the penalty for such a convenience can cost mobile customers the privacy of their personal devices and, more importantly, their personal information. As technology continues to focus on trending products that exceed the capabilities of a personal computer for a mobile market, customers need to be aware of the hazards of placing their most intimate personal data into their smart devices. Lookout Labs, a mobile security company and developer of the Lookout mobile security apps, is one of the companies on the front lines of the battle between malicious adware and the mobile user.
According to Kevin Mahaffey, co-founder and CTO of Lookout, "More than 50 percent of apps are now powered by ads, and while many ads adhere to reasonable standards for mobile privacy, Lookout's recent analysis found that more than 5 percent of apps in Google Play contain an ad network that uses aggressive advertising techniques." This means that half of the apps available on the Android market are sponsored by the ad companies they promote - clogging up user devices with unwanted content as a consequence for downloading the app. Ad networks like AirPush, Appenda, LeadBolt, Moolah Media, StartApp and others, are some of the leaders in in-app advertising, plastering smart devices with their clients advertisements as a form of marketing. Other more intrusive adware can do everything from adding icons to leaking personal data as a means of advertising targeting. Lookout has made it a priority, as stated by Mahaffey, "to making the mobile experience safe for everyone." The Lookout app for both Android protects users from spyware, malware and a variety of other mobile threats including adware. Also, this free app lets Android users locate their phone via Google Maps if it is ever stolen or misplaced. With the premium version of the app (priced at $2.99/month) users can remotely lock and wipe their phones. Stolen phones put mobile devices at risk for numerous attacks, specifically the accessing of personal data. With this feature, customers have the option to both lock and erase all of their personal files - keeping their data safe when it is needed most. Lookout Premium also features Safe Browsing and Privacy Advisor. These features allow the user to be on the Web with the app protecting their devices from phishing and malware. With the Privacy Advisor, Lookout compiles a list of all of the apps downloaded that put the mobile device at risk. Privacy Advisor alerts mobile users of applications that can access their personal data and identity information. One of Lookout Premium's essential features is the option for customers to back up their devices. According to Mahaffey, both iOS and Android versions of the app offer backup features that keep your personal data, such as photos, contact information and call history, to be restored at any time. Lookout is not the only company providing mobile customers with peace of mind from knowing their smart devices are safe from adware and theft. Companies like Avast!, NQ Mobile and Norton offer mobile security to protect their users from some of the toughest malware families and adware. Avast! features anti-virus protection that scans a user's phones every time a new app is downloaded, ensuring that the memory card and newly downloaded products are clean. This mobile security app also offers customers the option of blocking pre-designated contacts and a detailed list of all of the apps on the mobile device for app size (MB), CPU load, memory used and more. Plus customers can prevent information theft thanks to a hidden component that is remote controlled via SMS - if the phone is stolen or lost, mobile users can wipe their device, locate their device, set off an alarm and much more. While most mobile security apps feature the same collection of security features, some companies offer even more detailed information to make sure their customers know what their mobile device is doing and why. NQ Mobile boasts a network manager that keeps mobile users in the loop regarding the state of their device's network. The app's network manager keeps track of data usage to ensure users do not exceed their specific plan's limits. NQ Mobile also trends network traffic so users can view recent network activity up to ten days prior. The network manager ranks the device's mobile apps in order of traffic usage, keeping users informed and monitoring mobile apps at the same time. Security companies known for personal computer protection have also created mobile apps, making their trusted security services available for the mobile market. Norton Mobile, a mobile security app by Symantec, offers virus and malware protection on the go. Like Norton Anti-virus & Security, the mobile app protects users from outside threats. However, unlike services found on a personal computer, the Norton Mobile app has some advanced security features that specifically protect stolen devices. Along with alarms, locks and wiping features, the Norton Mobile app also locks SIM cards in case of tampering. Users can remotely lock the SIM card, which guarantees that the stolen device cannot be used by someone else with a different SIM card - even when inserted, the mobile device will not read the foreign card. Protecting mobile devices from adware and other outside threats can be as easy as researching apps before purchase. User comments on Google Play are usually a good indicator as to whether or not the app will contain adware, slow down a device or pose a threat to a user's personal information.
However, adware is a notoriously well kept secret, ad-networks depend on the information they receive from adware to market their clients, this makes it hard to know exactly what is on an app pre-download. Due to the prevalence of adware, it is essential that mobile users protect their phones with some sort of mobile security application - which one is up to the mobile user's preference. NOTE: Most of the free apps are upgradeable to premium or pro versions, these versions will cost a subscription fee or have a one time purchase price tag -- however, the upgraded versions offer select features not available on the free mobile security apps as noted in the slide show.
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