Are Smartphones Putting Your Data At Risk?

By Linda Waters. Filed in Web 2.0

With the unprecedented popularity of smartphones and other mobile devices, it is becoming increasingly easy for businesses to conduct their daily operations on a global scale. It is no longer obligatory for employees to be in the office at all times and inter-office communications can easily be conducted worldwide.

Regrettably, with this increase in mobile communications comes an increase in the vulnerability of sensitive information. It would be easy to blame the mobile manufacturers, but the truth of the matter is that the majority of the blame lies with the users of such devices.

It doesn’t matter how aware we are of the potential threat, it is human nature to think that it will never happen to us and as a result we are all fairly lax when it comes to our mobile device password protection and checking the credibility of apps and file downloads. This opens us up to a whole range of cyber threats.

Data Vulnerability

For the average user the threat of data being stolen from our smartphones is serious enough. It can result not only in identity theft, but also in credit card fraud, plus our smartphones may become unusable thanks to viruses and other malicious codes. However, when these threats target business users they become even more dangerous.

Vital Statistics

According to the annual ‘State of the Net’ report, it is estimated that around 20% of 234 million active cell phones in the United States are smartphones. In the past 12 months, around 7 million of these smartphones were damaged, lost or stolen.

Over 5.5 million were affected by ‘undesirable behavior’ including unauthorized text messages, intercepted data and other security threats. Given that 39% of 100 million adult phone users do not take even the most basic of security precautions this is not surprising.

Data-Laden Gadgets

These figures confirm that data vulnerability relating to smartphones is a very real concern. There is a huge amount of data being stored on smartphones. And since it is becoming the norm for companies to issue employees with smartphones to allow them to stay connected wherever they go, the threat has been elevated.

Employees are getting access to confidential business communications and holding onto sensitive data with their mobile devices. Without proper security in place, the data can be wrested from their hands in no time.

Common Threats For Smartphones

Jeff Fox, the technology editor of Consumer Reports, says that anyone who makes use of a smartphone is placing a great deal of trust not only in the manufacturer and the wireless carrier, but also in a multitude of app developers, mobile advertisers and the phone’s operating system.

With so many parties involved, it is best that the users themselves take precautions to ensure that their phones remain safe from any potential threats. The three most common of these threats are:

  1. Loss or theft of unprotected smartphones.
  2. Malicious downloads including apps and message attachments.
  3. Suspicious links and websites.

Losing a Smartphone

When a smartphone is lost or stolen, there is the opportunity for whoever finds/take it to access all of the data stored on the device. This might include such information as banking details, personal information and sensitive business documentation. In the wrong hands this information can be used to commit fraud or to damage the business in question.

This is why it is important to use passwords and screen-locks at a minimum, although it is also advisable to have other security measures in place.

Related:

Downloading Infected Apps

In terms of malicious downloads it is becoming increasingly more common for malicious codes to be embedded into apps. Even apps from trusted sources like the App Store and Google Play may present problems. For one thing, an increasing number of apps are being used to collect data and track user activity. If this activity includes logging onto any secure server, or using financial information then this can present a big problem.

According to ZDNet columnist Ken Hess, the number of app-related threats is steadily increasing and threats are also becoming much smarter. One example is the increase in so-called ‘staged exploits’ which work in small stages to try and confuse anti-malware tools. These often appear to be harmless updates making them difficult to spot and even more difficult to uninstall.

Phishing Links

One of the downsides of using a smartphone to surf online is that you cannot hover over links to see where they lead, the way you can on a PC. And it is common for cyber criminals to send links in SMS, emails or even on suspicious websites in order to lure people into clicking on malicious links which are designed to harvest data or download a virus or trojan. If you do not trust it, don’t click it.

While the three mentioned above are among the most common threats, but they are by no means the only ones. There are many dangers out there for those using smartphones including public wifi, malicious qr codes and data interception by hostile operator networks.

Protecting The Data Stored On Your Smartphone

There are a number of very basic steps that can be taken to protect data stored on your smartphone. These include:

  • using screen-locks
  • implementing password protection
  • being careful about using public Wi-Fi networks
  • installing apps to help locate your lost phone

However, since most threats are not even detectable to the average user it is also wise to take additional steps to secure your data.

Keep It Trackable

For years business owners have been using mobile phone-tracking apps to monitor employees to reduce abuse of company phones for personal calls or to catch those who are behaving inappropriately. However, these apps can also be used as an added security measure.

There are many such tools which also allow remote commands to be sent via SMS to lock the target phone or even to wipe the data if the phone is lost or stolen. It is also possible to track the phone’s location through GPS.

Conclusion

As long as there are Internet-enabled devices there will be those who exploit them to harm other people. However, with the help of education about best practices relating to security, and some additional security tools like mobile spy software, it is possible to reduced these threats to a minimum and keep your data from being compromised.

Editor’s note: This post is written by Linda Waters for Hongkiat.com. Linda is a blogger who is enthusiastic about cutting-edge mobile technologies, truly unique apps and cell phone tracking software. She is a marketing executive at mspy.com. You can find him on LinkedIn.

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