Smartphones and Security: Protecting Yourself in 5 Easy Steps
Many people remain unaware that smartphones face even greater security threats than home computers. Viruses, hacking and theft can put sensitive personal information at risk. An article published in The Star Press during early 2012 warned that hackers frequently obtain account information and credit card details from smartphones. This also happens to the users of home and business computers.
However, the many integrated features of a smartphone make it even more valuable to hackers. It’s possible for them to listen in on your telephone calls and take pictures with the phone’s built-in camera, according to The New York Times. Some hackers can even monitor your personal conversations when the phone appears to be off. Over 1 million smartphones have already been hacked.
Fortunately, you can follow these tips to minimize smartphone security risks:
1. Use care when downloading smartphone applications. It can be very hazardous to download apps that were designed with ill-intent or negligence. Pennsylvania State University warns that such applications may cause serious harm to users, devices and cellphone networks. They can steal private information or make your smartphone more vulnerable to hacking. A study conducted by PSU in 2010 found that two out of three well-known apps transmit private data without user consent. Some retrieve the user’s phone number or location.
One way to find safe applications is to obtain them from reputable companies. You should know who created an app before using it. Some apps have lists of permissions that you can view before starting a download, according to The New York Times. Carefully inspect these lists and see if they make sense. For example, a card game shouldn’t have permission to take pictures or check your current location.
2. Don’t open every email message that you receive, and use care when responding to email or voice messages. Like computers, smartphones can become infected with viruses sent by email. Always check the sender and the subject before opening a message. Avoid clicking on email links or opening suspicious attachments; they can transmit viruses.
Fraudulent voice, text and email messages may urge you to reveal your account information. Some appear to come from mobile phone carriers or financial institutions. Hackers may send text messages that ask for permission to “reconfigure” your smartphone, according to The New York Times. It can be difficult to determine if such messages are genuine. Instead of responding to them, contact your mobile provider by phone.
3. Avoid insecure connections, especially for sensitive data. The University of Hawaii recommends using a password-based Internet connection to transmit confidential information. Don’t use a free Wi-Fi service to make purchases or conduct banking transactions. Hackers can easily intercept financial information and may use it to steal your identity. Bluetooth wireless devices can also compromise security. So-called “jailbroken” or “unlocked” smartphones face a greater risk of hacking. These are phones that can use more than one mobile service network.
Although you can minimize the risks, a smartphone simply isn’t the safest device to use when conducting financial transactions. For optimal security, use a home computer with a wired Internet connection.
4. Although viruses and hacking pose greater concerns for most people, don’t neglect to consider the physical security of your phone. Someone can steal a smartphone and use it to make online purchases or expensive calls. A criminal might also use your personal information for identity theft. Avoid putting confidential information on a smartphone. If you must do this, use a password to protect the data. WABC recommends using different passwords for your smartphone than you use elsewhere.
Your phone’s security may also be put at risk when you allow someone to borrow it. Unless you fully trust them, don’t let people use your smartphone for extended periods of time. Keep in mind that valuable phones can easily become targets for theft. Also, be aware that someone could inadvertently infect your phone with a virus. Before lending the phone to friends or family members, ensure that they understand smartphone security.
5. If security becomes compromised, act quickly. Watch your smartphone for poor performance or unusual behavior. This could indicate that it is using time or battery power to monitor your activities. Remove any personal information from the phone and download the latest security updates. If you can’t solve the problem yourself, seek the help of a professional. When you suspect a security breach but don’t have time to address it, disconnect the phone from all sources of electrical power.
It’s also important to respond quickly if someone steals your phone; get in touch with the mobile phone service right away. The technical support staff might be able to remove private information from your smartphone or lock access to it, according to the University of Hawaii. This will also prevent a thief from using your phone to make long-distance calls.
In general, you can maintain the security of your smartphone by using it cautiously and taking preventive measures. If in doubt, don’t click a link or download an application. It’s never worth risking the loss of your identity or the contents of your bank account. Always keep your smartphone’s security software up-to-date and enable any optional security features that it provides. As with computers, both free and commercial anti-virus programs are available. Finally, be sure to keep up with the latest news on smartphone security. The world of viruses, hacking and spyware is always changing; it’s important to remain aware of the signs to watch for.
Staff Researcher/Part-time Writer