It’s the Swiss Army knife of your life. Your smartphone is a lifeline to family and friends, a personal secretary, your office on the go, a keeper of your secrets. It’s time to ask yourself how safe your phone really is in this interconnected world.
Your smartphone is not the simple mobile phone you carried in your pocket a decade ago, when you relied on your personal computer to connect to the Internet. It’s more powerful than your computer was back then, and it’s more connected than ever.
The basic rules of computer safety now apply to your smartphone. Matt Shaffer, BendBroadband’s information security officer, says the challenge posed by cybercrime is sure to increase.
Android-powered phones are currently the most hacked smartphones in the world, but that doesn’t mean Apple has managed to fend off all cybercriminals. Any worms, viruses and other malware that can infect your computer can hit your smartphone as well.
“Smartphone users are in denial when it comes to safety — especially Apple-centric users,” Shaffer says. “Staunch Apple users often think that their products are infallible, but in reality, they are as vulnerable as the others.”
Internet crooks are out to get your secrets, and there are plenty of them on your phone: passwords, pictures and other sensitive information.
“The minimum security measure for your smartphone is to have a PIN,” Shaffer says. “Anything is better than nothing at all.”
Should you misplace your phone in a public place, a PIN will protect it from accidental prying by the finder.
If a criminal gets hold of your phone, the threat level leaps.
“There are programs that can break into your smartphone within 60 seconds and give the criminal unfettered access to your information,” Shaffer says.
To deter criminals, Shaffer recommends upping the ante by using encryption and making your password more sophisticated, incorporating a mix of upper- and lower-case letters and special characters.
“You should guard your smartphone with the same care that you give your wallet,” Shaffer says.
Smartphone theft has become an epidemic in the United States. Last year alone, 1.6 million handheld devices were stolen, and one in three robberies nationwide involved a cellphone. An Apple iPhone can command $300 on the black market.
A thief can potentially wreak havoc, using your BendBroadband email account to send spam. You could also end up with a nasty phone bill if a thief uses your phone to place costly “robo-calls.”
Set up the software in your phone to accept remote lock and — for use in a worst-case scenario — remote wipe. This is especially important if you are a businessperson.
The more connected you are, the greater the risks a lost smartphone poses to you or your employer, if it’s a company phone.
Should you decide to wipe your lost phone, Shaffer recommends doing so before calling your service provider.
“If you call your cellular provider and tell them that your phone is lost, it’s turned off for good and you’re not going to be able to locate the phone and wipe it afterwards,” Shaffer says. “If you realize that your smartphone is lost, wipe it remotely first before you call your cell provider.”
Shaffer strongly suggests equipping your smartphone with anti-virus software. And make sure you have the latest operating software installed on your phone.
“When your provider updates the system software, it’s usually for a good reason,” Shaffer says.
Finally, if you use your smartphone to shop online for songs, movies or books, Shaffer recommends sticking with official “company” outlets.
“Go to the store that is native to your smartphone,” he says. “That will significantly reduce the chance of accidentally downloading a malicious application.”