When the Palm Pilot first came out, gadget and organization fetishists slipped on their own drool. The compact, sleek plastic housing and sheer power (a whopping 2 MB of RAM and no internal storage) was the envy of tech geeks worldwide. In 1998, these monochrome devices (which ran on AA batteries and cost $400) seemed perfect.

Hints of Malware to Come

And then rumors of a Palm virus started creeping around. Doom-and-gloom web articles said Palm owners were at serious risk, since these mobile devices contained sensitive info. We started cleaning them, password protecting them, purchased antivirus software…all for nothing. Turns out the ultra-simply operating system are what made it difficult to write viruses for Palms and other mobile devices back then.

But that’s not the case now.

Not Just Rumors Anymore

Fifteen years ago, mobile computing was only good for storing information and maybe, on the high end ones, sending an email. Now tablets can handle 90% of our daily computer use, as fast as any laptop. Surfing, sending emails, playing games, communicating with friends, word processing, database creation…there’s almost nothing a tablet (Android or iOS) can do.

That device utility has brought on the malware creators and cybercriminals. To put it in perspective, from March 2012 to March 2013, almost 300,000 pieces of new viruses were discovered for mobile systems. That number doesn’t include those found before this year. If we counted that, we’d be over a million. With AndroRAT (a hacker utility that can make any virus look like a benign app) available, it will only get worse.

A Free Defense against Mobile Malware

Unless you’re a professional programmer, surefire defending against a cyber attack is hard, but you can make it almost impossible for malware to get its foot in the door. The first is downloading an antivirus app for your device. AVG makes a free antivirus for PCs and mobile systems, and it works well. It actually has apps specifically for mobile phones or tablets. Run the antivirus app a few times a week.

Where Does that App Come From?

The chief avenue malware uses to infect mobile systems is by you inviting it in…through apps. To protect yourself, never download an app that was just placed on the App Store or Google Play. Always look at reviews and always take a second to research the app’s author. New authors, new apps and a lack of reviews should make mental alarms go off.

No Kid Needs a $600 Toy

Another piece of advice is solely for parents. Many parents allow their children to play with tablets. After all, a colorful game can keep any child quite for twenty or thirty minutes, but be aware that children LOVE pressing buttons and downloading things. If your app purchases can be made without a password, never let your children use the tablet, locked or not. Buy them a Nubi.

Letting children handle a $600 iPad or Android tablet teaches them it’s a toy, and today’s tablets are anything but. They are highly-sophisticated communication, graphic and production devices, able to do what Palm could not dream of. They are not toys.

Because cybercriminals don’t write malware for toys.