I’ll answer: not often enough.
The internet can be a scary place. And unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten much better. Yet most of us don’t think about the daily tasks we can to do make things better. We just go on merrily hoping that we don’t have to worry about it.
Phones vs. computers
First of all, unless you’re a hardcore gamer, you probably don’t spend as much time on a computer as you do on your phone. In the last decade, the phone has become the dominant way we interact with our electronic world. The PC has been left to be a tool for our work or school experiences. Chances are you touch your computer as little as you can. Maybe you pay bills with it or check your work resources. Otherwise it’s just not a big part of your life.
While this probably means that you’re spending less time going to skeevy sites on your computer than you do on your phone, it also means that you probably spend less time on maintenance.
Browsing on the phone isn’t as dangerous, because both iPhones and Androids have ways to keep what’s happening in the browser from getting to the rest of the operating system. While those protections aren’t perfect, they are generally better than the protections you get from a PC.
Are the PC’s automatic tasks enough?
Windows PCs tend to scan themselves about once a week and deal with serious malware scans about once a month. Realistically that’s probably enough to deal with the majority of stuff. But if you care about the stuff you have stored, you should probably do a little more.
Windows’ built-in malware protection is actually pretty good. I long ago swore off alternatives like Norton and McAfee as unnecessary resource hogs. You can run a full scan using Windows. It will take a few hours while you work and probably won’t slow you down. I’d recommend you do it once a month or so, just to catch that stuff that the routine scans won’t.
I’m also a big fan of Malwarebytes, which is a free/ad-supported product that does an amazing job of finding those little gremlins that Windows’ own scanner misses. If you grow tired of its persistent ads, just pay a small fee and get the paid version. Malwarebytes is quick, efficient, and it’s personally saved me more than once.
So what about your phone then?
There are some antivirus products for your phone, but there isn’t a clear winner. I guess it’s good news that Apple and Google have done a really good job of finding and trapping app-based malware. It’s meant that thorough cleanings are unnecessary. What’s a little less optimistic is that Apple’s own app store rules prevent any really effective malware-scanning app, because no app can really go outside its own boundaries. Google SafeScreen has much the same problem.
The best thing to do with your phone is just stay away from those really bad sites. I recommend that people who want to play around on the fringes of the internet get a phone, tablet, or Chromebook that’s set up on its own Wi-Fi network. Go ahead. Do what you want with it. You’ll blow it up at some point, but it won’t matter because the rest of your network is safe.
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