The popularity of smartphones has soared in recent years. Smartphones allow users to access the web, check e-mail, and download applications. Similar to computers, smartphones are also targeted by cyber criminals.
Basic Security Precautions
Users should adopt basic security precautions when using their mobile phones, as hackers, malicious users and thieves are mostly opportunists who prefer to target those who have provided them an easy way to achieve their aim. Using the following preventative measures, users avoid not only mobile phishing, but also a myriad of attacks that can compromise the smartphone security.
1. Physical Security
Due to their portable nature, smartphones are especially prone to loss or theft. This often leads to unauthorized persons gaining physical access to the devices. Furthermore, some people may share their phones with family members or friends. If these phones are set up with business applications, such as email, this poses a greater security risk.
a) Always Secure Smartphone with a Password
This is one of the most basic security tips, but one which is often ignored! In 2012, it was reported that approximately 1.6 million Americans had their smartphones stolen – this is particularly significant considering that half of iPhone users and 30% of Android and Windows smartphone users do not lock their mobile devices.
The reasons for using a password are clear – if a phone is lost, stolen, or simply left unattended, anyone that picks it up will not be able to access the information on the device. The majority of smartphones include this feature, however users do not enable it as it presents a layer of inconvenience. The most ideal smartphone protection is a strong passcode, which is considered better than swipe patterns, as greasy fingertrails could reveal too much.
b) Set Device to Lock Itself Automatically
Most smartphones can be set to lock automatically after a period of inactivity. It is best to use three to five minutes, even though 10 to 30 minutes might feel more convenient.
2. Do Not Miss Operating System Updates
Usually updates to the OS include system vulnerability patches, therefore it is important to install them.
3. Protect Data Confidentiality
Users should never store business-related information on their smartphones in plain text, since if the device is lost or stolen, this could lead to a security breach.
4. The Wi-Fi Threat
Nearly all smartphones make use of the wireless carrier’s 3G or 4G network, and also have the option of connecting to wireless networks - such as a router in home or office, or a wireless hotspot. Many users prefer a wireless connection because generally, they can save on data usage costs or have higher speeds.
However, any device that is enabled to send data across airwaves is a potential security risk. Continually probing for wireless networks gives away information about identity and location. If users connect their phones to an unsecured Wi-Fi network, they automatically become vulnerable to attack, as most of these public hotspots found in some cities, at cafeterias, bookstores and other public locations are unencrypted. This means that a knowledgeable person can easily gather and read the information the user is sending across the network connection, becoming victim of a man-in-the-middle attack.
A wireless connection should always be switched off when not in use, so as to ensure that malicious parties cannot connect to a device without the user’s knowledge. It is also advisable that the phone is set to forget networks no longer in use, so as to reduce the amount of data leakage and configure the phone to automatically turn on off wireless.
5. Turn-off Bluetooth and NFC When Not In Use
In terms of connectivity, Bluetooth and NFC (Near Field Communication) are very useful as they enable wireless keyboards and headsets and the ability make payments simply with a wave of smartphone, respectively. Consequently, they also create a way for malicious entities to gain access to the device and access data. Therefore it is recommended that the default Bluetooth configuration be set to ‘non-discoverable’ mode or switched off completely. In addition, great care should be taken when pairing devices – any unknown requests that come through a Bluetooth connection, such as a request to “pair” with a device or reply to a message from an unknown source should be declined or ignored.
It is easy to bypass security mechanisms for the user’s convenience. Although this makes it much easier and less frustrating for those who are constantly using their phones, it also defeats the purpose of those security mechanisms. With mobile phones falling in the wrong hands everyday, users should be aware of smartphone security risks and adopt security measures to prevent costly security breaches.
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