SINGAPORE – Singtel will bolt on antivirus software that scans smartphones for risky apps and viruses in a suite of refreshed postpaid mobile plans amid concerns of increasingly sophisticated cyber threats.
Users will be provided an account to cyber security firm McAfee’s app, which has to be set up to alert users to bugs and other safety issues via the app to protect phones from system vulnerabilities and unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
The antivirus-equipped plans start at $62 a month for a 5G plan with 30GB of data, and go up to $288 for a three-line family bundle, along with a pick of the latest smartphones, Singtel announced on Thursday.
The telco said that the inclusion of McAfee mobile security aims to protect customers from increasingly sophisticated online threats like malware and scams.
The service is usually sold separately for Singtel customers for $4.95 a month for two devices, but is now incorporated into its postpaid contracts.
Singtel’s antivirus-equipped mobile plans make it the first of Singtel, M1 and StarHub to bundle antivirus software with mobile phone plans by default.
Users of other telcos can opt for similar antivirus software through paid add-ons, such as StarHub’s $5-per-month CyberProtect antivirus service, which weeds out cyber threats by blocking blacklisted sites from being accessed by connected devices.
M1 had offered users with Android devices additional mobile security to scan for viruses and block malicious sites for $1.51 a month, but it is understood that this service is no longer available.
There have been increasing concerns over mobile applications, especially those that are installed from unofficial portals, that could expose devices to hackers.
Fraudsters have tricked victims into installing malware-laden apps that can grant control over a device, from sources outside of official app platforms like the Google Play Store. These cases account for some of at least 113 Android device users who lost more than $445,000 in total between March and April after their banking credentials were stolen in scams, said the police in April.
In August, OCBC Bank implemented a security feature that prevents users from logging into its OCBC Digital app on their phone if it detects apps downloaded from unofficial portals.
Singtel’s plans that come with McAfee mark the latest security options that telcos have rolled out to combat such cyber threats.
Once installed and set up by the user, the McAfee software will alert users to risky websites and dangerous downloads using the McAfee Safe Web Browsing feature, as well as apps and files on the device that could contain viruses.
Users are also provided with McAfee Password Manager, which can store and autofill credentials when prompted by the user, who would not have to remember many passwords.
The McAfee software also tracks the location of the device if it is lost or stolen, allowing the user to wipe data stored on the phone on command. And if the device is stolen, the software will take a photo of the person holding on to the phone and note its location, which will be sent over to the device’s rightful owner.
Singtel added that the software scans apps on a device, but does not scan message content and attachments. The program is installed on the device’s onboard memory and any battery drain caused by the app has been found to be negligible, it said in a separate fact sheet.
Some consumers The Straits Times spoke to welcomed Singtel’s inclusion of antivirus software but said the bundle was expensive.
Financial consultant Nicholas Yee, 46, said the mandatory inclusion of antivirus software will benefit users who are not tech-savvy and are unlikely to seek out cyber security programs that ensure apps on their phone are safe to use.
He noted that there are other free and subscription-based mobile security apps online, like AVG AntiVirus and Security, which similarly provide threat alerts, app vaults and other cyber security tools.
Samsung devices are also equipped with a basic antivirus software provided by McAfee, which can be activated in the settings menu.
Mr Xu Kewei, 38, who works in the IT sector, agreed that the bundle could benefit those who are not tech-savvy, but said users could forget to download the additional app as they might not even know that the McAfee subscription is tagged to their Singtel plan.
“Singtel can send them a simple step-by-step guide, or their staff can help them install it when they are signing up for the package,” said Mr Xu.
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