Mobile Security

June 18, 2015

 

Everyone seems to be getting more comfortable using their smartphones for just about everything, and the hackers seem to know this.  Mobile malware is growing, especially now that more people are using their phones for financial transactions (online shopping, banking, etc.).  Here are some things to keep in mind as you use your phone or tablet.

 

In a survey conducted by Symantec, 51% of U.S. adults bank online and 35% use a mobile phone.   As banking transactions continue to grow, it will get the attention of the hacking community.  It has been seen that Android malware has the ability to intercept the text message containing the authentication code sent from your bank.  In addition, fake banking sites exist that forward your credentials to hackers when you attempt to sign in.  As a matter of fact, most of the exploits that have been seen in the PC world are now making their way to our cell phones.  But what makes security all the more challenging is the multitude of ways that hackers can get access.  Let’s look at a few of the threats that exist and how to stay safe.

 

Privacy is fast becoming a huge issue.  A Norton survey had shown that one in four people admitted that they did not know what they agreed to when they downloaded new apps and that the majority of people are willing to give up their privacy for a free app.  Many Android apps do not provide the user with details on what will be shared with the app developers.  Apple apps tend to provide greater controls over what is shared.  Regardless of the phone you use, learn to limit what each app has access to.  For instance, a Flashlight app does not need access to your location or to your contacts.

 

Companion Devices such as Fitbit, which communicate and share information with your cell phone, have been shown to be avenues of entry into your phone.  Symantec researchers found significant vulnerabilities in many devices and applications.   Many of these devices transmit unencrypted data and do not publish their privacy policies.  Be cautious when using these devices.

 

Passcodes have been around for a while, but very few users actually use them.  Most security experts claim that your first line of defense is a passcode.  Most information stolen from phones is accomplished by stealing the physical phone.   Remember, the passwords you use to do your banking may be stored in the phone’s cache, getting access to the phone may provide access to information you don’t want to lose.

 

Caller ID is a great feature, but it’s also a feature that is hackable.  That’s right, the call you think is coming from your bank may not be.  Don’t trust caller ID, when in doubt make the call yourself using the phone number you know is correct.

 

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are wireless technologies that provide a lot of convenience but also come with some risks.  Using a public Wi-Fi hotspot is never recommended, especially if you are attempting any financial transactions or visiting websites that require usernames and passwords.  Stay on your cell connection, it’s safer.  As for Bluetooth, some viruses have been able to propagate over Bluetooth from one device to another.  If you are done using your Bluetooth connection, turn it off.

 

Apps are the lifeblood of our phones, without them our phones are nearly worthless.  Some people get app crazy, they want the newest apps and are willing to trust those apps to play nice on their phones.  Be careful.  Not all apps play by the same rules, some contain malware that once installed on your phone can be quite difficult to remove.  We have gotten good at removing viruses from PC’s, but doing so on a phone can be a challenge.  And when you are looking for a new app, go to the official app store for your type phone.

 

In summary, we all need to begin treating our phones like the small computers that they really are.  And like PC’s, they can get infected and hacked.  But is this true of all phones, or are some safer than others?  To answer this question, let’s simplify.  Phones can be separated into two major groups based on their operating system.  Android based phones and iOS (Apple) phones.   It’s been a long held belief that Apple phones are safe, but in recent times, we have seen that their safeguards are not foolproof.  So, are they all about equal? …not quite.  Apple still holds tight control over the apps offered on their App Store, whereas apps in the Android world are not well policed.  Google designed the Android operating system as an open environment.  An open architecture typically results in greater innovation but also provides hackers with an easier environment from which to work.  The short answer is, Apple still provides a safer system, but don’t let that lull you into complacency.  Our mobile world is getting more attention from the bad guys, so, be careful, and stay safe.

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