Wellbeing in a mobile world
As a style statement and useful communication device, the mobile phone is perhaps the most sought-after gadget of our times. It has also become a vital part of daily life for billions of people around the world. Whether used for keeping tabs on children or running a business, the mobile phone has made a huge difference in how we do things today.
But our increasing dependence on the benefits of wireless communication has also come with a cost. If something goes wrong – like the phone is lost or it gets infected with a virus – this can quickly cause some serious life complications. It’s no exaggeration to say that the security of our mobile phones now affects our wellbeing in the broadest sense.
While we are enjoying the technological advances that make mobile phones ever more versatile, we are also facing new security risks. Mobile phones have always been a popular target for thieves working the streets, but they are now also increasingly targeted by cyber criminals who have been using the Internet to make money through all kinds of scams, frauds, identity theft and extortion. This is especially the case with the new generation of feature-packed smartphones.
Smartphones need safe keepers
Today’s smartphones are some of the coolest and most popular computing devices around. And that’s what they really are: mobile, portable computers that can perform many of the same things as a laptop. With a smartphone you can send sms and multimedia messages, check your email and browse the web, take pictures and record video, play music, watch television, and buy things online.
Many people now store all their personal information, banking details, business projects and other valuable data on their smartphones, which can also be synchronized with computers. As more financial transactions are carried out using mobile phones than ever before, criminals are not only out to steal the phones but to make money from the information they contain.
Smartphone users have the potential to lose a lot of valuable information as well as money, so they really need to be aware of the security risks.
At the moment, the mobile phone security scene is not as serious as the Internet-based threats that are affecting everyone’s home and work PCs. While there are currently several hundred mobile threats, on the PC side there are hundreds of thousands of threats. The vast majority of mobile phones are still relatively safe, especially the older types of phones with standard features.
However, mobile phones are constantly becoming more sophisticated. Features that a few years ago were only available in the most expensive, top of the range phones are now becoming the norm. This trend is set to continue at an escalating pace. Experts predict that smartphones will soon take over from laptops as the most popular device for connecting to the Internet on the move. It is also a scenario guaranteed to attract the virus writers.
There are different ways that malicious viruses, worms and trojans, collectively known as malware in the Internet security world, can infect your phone. You may be tricked into opening a multimedia message that contains the malware, or unlocking your phone and installing a harmful application through a Bluetooth connection, or as a web download.
Malware can instruct your phone to send out expensive sms messages or make calls to premium rate numbers. It can also delete important information or make your phone unusable. Some malware attempts to spread further by messaging people on your contact list. A recent outbreak in Asia saw the first so-called ransom trojan, which disabled the victim’s phone and demanded a payment before the criminals made the phone operational again. Internet hackers have carried out similar attacks against web sites for several years.
To infect a phone, mobile malware usually requires the user to open a message or to install an application. The best line of defense is therefore to delete any messages that come from people you don’t know. It’s important to be aware of the social engineering tricks employed by criminals. Just as spam e-mails try to lure Internet users into opening harmful messages and attachments, the same methods are used for infecting mobile phones.
Spy tools for everyday espionage
There is also a growing concern over privacy issues and spying involving smartphones. The technology that was once the stuff of spy films is now commercially available to anyone wishing to snoop on their spouse or business colleague. Spy-tools are installed physically on the victim’s phone with a memory card. They can monitor and record all the actions on a mobile phone, including voice calls, sms, multimedia and e-mail messages. Even your exact location can be tracked through GPS coordinates.
While the spy-tool software may be legal, its use is highly questionable and probably illegal in most countries. The best way to protect against being spied on is to never lose sight of your mobile phone and to install security software that alerts you to any security breaches.
Safe habits save trouble
Following some common sense security measures helps to keep your phone safe and sound. For a start, don’t make things easy for thieves by showing off your phone in public places where it can be snatched, or by leaving it visible inside a car. You can also preempt trouble by spending a little time on your phone’s security settings. Always keep the phone locked and protected with a password if you must leave it unattended somewhere.
Statistics show that most mobile phones are lost by teenagers, so educate them about security issues and think twice before investing in expensive models that could easily disappear tomorrow. If your family has a history of dropping mobile phones down the toilet or leaving them on top of the car and driving off, consider taking out insurance.
Treat your SIM card with care and make sure you have a backup record of all the information it contains. Also make a record of your phone’s unique 15 digit IMEI number which can be found by typing *#06# on the keypad. This helps the police identify a recovered phone. If you do lose your phone or it’s stolen, notify the police immediately and also get your operator to disable the phone number before someone runs up a huge bill on your account. Marking the phone with your contact details makes it easy for honest people to return a lost phone.
Think of your mobile phone in the same way as your computer. Only accept messages, downloads and applications from reliable sources, just like you would when using your PC. Any multimedia message (mms) that prompts an installation should be refused. Disable your phone’s Bluetooth discoverability.
When you are web browsing on your phone, remember that the interface is different so you may not be able spot the telltale signs of dubious websites. Be on the lookout for ‘phishing’ attempts that ask you to reveal personal information such as credit card details.
As mobile threats increase in number and sophistication, consider protecting your mobile phone with software like F-Secure Mobile Security – especially if you are using a smartphone for business or online banking. It lets you enjoy the mobile world to the full, safe in the knowledge that your privacy and valuable information remain protected.