SoftActivity
October 16th, 2013

The need for users of mobile devices to protect their sensitive data is critical

Sales of mobile computing devices, including smartphones, tablets, and various other mobile phones have absolutely exploded in recent years, even as PC sales have spiraled into free fall. Chances are good that you’re reading this post on such a device. Mobile computing devices are replacing PCs at a rapid clip in almost every area of life. Mobile devices have long been popular in business settings, but the release of the smartphone in 2007 has gradually made them almost as common – if not more so – in certain business arenas as PCs. Certainly, consumer adaptation of mobile devices has reached epic proportions. From games to online banking; from social networking to homework; from TV and movies to weight loss, dieting and web surfing, everybody’s using these devices for every conceivable purpose. I’ve outlined below some of the reasons you should be cautious when using mobile devices, and some ways to protect your private data from being stolen.

Issues of Security and Privacy

This explosion in mobile devices has led to concerns among some users regarding mobile security in general and, more specifically, mobile internet security. The concern and awareness of the need for greater mobile security and greater mobile internet security, however, isn’t nearly prevalent or urgent enough. The problem, it seems, is that people forget that the smartphones they’re signing into their bank accounts on; that the tablets they’re posting Facebook updates to, are powerful computers. Users seem inclined to treat these devices like little more than high-tech playthings [admittedly, they are useful as toys], instead of the powerful, data-intensive tools they are. One study by Zogby International, for instance, found that 72 percent of smartphone users in the US have never installed virus or malware applications on their device nor applications to protect against data loss. Yet, the use of mobile devices to store sensitive data and to conduct important personal and financial transactions over the internet continues to rise.

Tips for Increasing Mobile Internet Security

In the Zogby International study above, 70 percent of users felt safe from malicious software, cybercriminals, and hackers when using their devices. Nothing could be further from the truth; mobile malware – including Trojans and rootkits – and mobile viruses are quite real, as are hackers and other cybercriminals looking to steal the sensitive data from your device, thereby stealing your identity, your money, or both. As the heyday of the PC nears its swansong, the need for mobile security and mobile internet security is more critical than ever. The following is a list of tips to help keep your mobile device secure:

  1. Change your mentality. Treat your mobile device like the powerful portable computer it is. Most users would think it highly risky, bordering on crazy, not to use virus and malware software when surfing the web on a PC. It would seem equally ludicrous not to back up your data. Your mentality with your mobile device should be identical. There are many available apps now that provide smartphone, tablet and mobile phone internet security – many of them free. A quick search on Google Play, the Apple App Store, or other reputable app store will find them. Once you find one that suits your needs, install it.
  2. Keep you device physically secure. One way to achieve greater smartphone, tablet and mobile phone internet security, is to keep track of your device the way you might a diamond ring or a wallet or purse. The data contained within is likely every bit as important – if not more so – and that’s not even taking into account the expense of replacing a lost or stolen device.
  3. Use a password or a PIN to protect your mobile device in case it’s lost or stolen. When you consider the number of smartphones that are lost or stolen each day in the US, this advice becomes especially critical. According to Forbes.com, 33 percent of all thefts in the US involve smartphones. Meanwhile, a 2012 study found that 113 mobile phones are misplaced every minute in the US. Most newer mobile devices allow users to password- or PIN-protect the device. Each time the screen goes dark, a password or a PIN is required to unlock the screen when the user awakens the device. Should the person who wakes the device be a thief or a random stranger who found the phone, they won’t be able to gain access to the data within.
  4. Don’t store passwords, credit card or bank account numbers, or other sensitive information on your smartphone, mobile phone or tablet. If you store such info on the device and it’s lost or stolen, you’re compromised. When you’re mobile browser asks if you want to store your sensitive data, tell it “no, never, never, never.”
  5. Don’t respond to emails, text messages or other communications claiming to be from a financial or other institution urgently requesting account numbers or passwords. Call the business in question and report the message. A reputable business will never contact you to solicit your account numbers or other personal information.
  6. Be extremely wary of text messages or messages from social media sites that contain links, especially if you don’t know the party who sent the message. In fact, if you don’t know the person who sent the link, the best policy is to delete the message. If you do know the person, contact him or her and authenticate the message.
  7. Be careful when using public “hotspots.” Keep in mind that these free-to-connect-to-and-use Wi-Fi networks are usually unencrypted and therefore unsecure, making every bit of data you send across them vulnerable to theft. A savvy hacker with the knowhow and the right equipment and software could easily intercept your passwords and account numbers as you transfer them across the network. Discipline yourself to limit the type of transactions you conduct when using these connections.
  8. Keep your software and apps up-to-date. Remember all those annoying security patches and updates in the days when Windows ruled the roost? Maybe not, but the fact remains: when your device informs you an app needs updating – or especially an operating system – update it. Doing so allows you to stay one step ahead of cybercriminals and hackers, who are always probing for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in apps and operating systems.
  9. Before you download that new app, read its privacy policy as closely as you can bear to. I know this can be a tall order for many apps, but reading the policies will help clarify the types of data and information you’ll be sharing with the app, which can help you make an informed decision as to whether you really need it.
  10. Download apps only from trusted, highly verified sources – e.g. Google Play, Apple’s App Store, the Verizon Apps Store, Samsung Apps, and the Amazon App store. Learn from the experiences of other users with the app you’re considering. Read the reviews and pay attention to the ratings. Avoid apps with few reviews and few downloads.

By Frank Winston, SoftActivity

Photo by Intel Free Press (Flickr)