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Last updated: February 16. 2013 6:02PM - 311 Views

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It seems the innocent, carefree days of smartphone ownership are drawing to a close, and we've got viruses to thank for it.


No computer system is completely immune to being hacked, and those that routinely connect to strange devices and networks are essentially sitting ducks for malicious programming. Your Android or iPhone device fits that to a "T."


Not only is it possible to hack into a smartphone or tablet, in some cases it can be more lucrative than infecting a desktop computer, given that people habitually store banking information and all sorts of other personal data on these devices.


With the recent explosion of smartphone and tablet sales, hackers have picked up on that fact and incidents of malware infection in mobile devices are on the rise.


People often forget their phones aren't just "phones" anymore. They're actually computers that happen to be able to place telephone calls, and just like any other computer they can contract viruses, malware and spyware.


A typical computer virus might be able to send spam e-mails, steal personal information or hijack your browser. Malware on your mobile device can do all that and much more. Instead of just sending spam e-mails, it could send spam text messages or possibly even phone calls. It could monitor inputs to the screen and keyboard, access your location via GPS … essentially a virus can access and use any capability that a device has.


With the emergence of "digital wallet" technology the danger is magnified, because these devices directly store credit card information and may have access to all of the security data that would normally be required to process a payment.


Fortunately, anti-virus and anti-malware software is available. Many major anti-virus companies offer both free and paid versions, including Avast and AVG that can easily be found in the Android market.


Even so, the best defense is the same as it would be with any other computer: Be careful what you download and which websites you visit.


Apps that look like innocuous games or even wallpapers can harbor viruses.


How can you tell if your device is already infected? Many of the symptoms parallel those you'd see in a computer. If your device is acting strangely, or you wind up with apps, photos or ringtones that you didn't download, it's possible your phone is infected.


In some cases, antivirus software can put an end to the unwanted behavior. If the malware is deeply entrenched, however, it may be necessary to restore the device to its factory settings.


Nick DeLorenzo is director of interactive and new media for The Times Leader. E-mail him at ndelorenzo@timesleader.com.


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