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Jan 21 2011

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10 ways to protect your smartphone

For those of us who own a smartphone, we often do not realise how much personal and sensitive information it contains about our lives. Although we might no longer be able to imagine a world without our Blackberry, iPhone, or Android device, we might not be taking the necessary steps to safeguard it…

As we become ever more reliant on mobile phones in our personal and professional lives, smartphones, such as Blackberrys, iPhones, and those using the Android platform, are being increasingly subject to hacking and a broad range of other threats.  To some extent we give little thought to how secure the information we store on our phone is, unless it is stolen or has been compromised in some way. Discussed below are some ways you can better protect your smartphone and its contents.

1.  Activate PIN. Although the capability to lock mobile phones is a standard feature on most devices, it is seldom used. The PIN, which is usually four digits long, can be the first line of protection from unauthorised access, especially if the device is lost or stolen. However, since there are ways to quickly crack such a short code, it should be supplemented by other measures.

2.  Be wary of unsolicited messages, emails and dodgy web links. Mobile phones are increasingly being subject to unsolicited text messages, which could be spam or phishing. Smartphones are also at risk from corrupt email attachments and suspicious web links, similar to PCs. Hence, the discrimination that is exercised to manage emails and connect to websites on a PC, must be applied when using smartphones.

3.  Turn off Bluetooth when not in use. Active Bluetooth connectivity can leave smartphones open to spying, to receiving unsolicited messages and even to hacking.  Phones are especially vulnerable to Bluetooth attacks when a PIN has not been activated. Although it is a standard feature on most phones, it is advisable to turn it off when is not required. Further, turning off Bluetooth can result in another distinct benefit: it can significantly extend battery life on some phones.

4.  Limit activity on unsecured Wi-Fi. Public or unsecured Wi-Fi, while attractive to mobile users, can provide an ideal environment for hacking. Moreover, cyber criminals are establishing fake Wi-Fi hotspots for that purpose. Instead of Wi-Fi, smartphone users on the go are encouraged to use their 3G or 4G mobile connection, which is more secure.

5.  Download apps from reputable sources. It is truly mind boggling the multitude of mobile applications that are available. They stem from a variety of sources, to suit every possible need, and there is still a lot of giddy enthusiasm in the industry to develop even more programmes. This array of choices often overshadows the real threat that exists from dodgy applications that can corrupt or transmit information from your smartphone to other sources. Moreover, many of us are at pains not to pay for applications if a seemingly similar programme is available for free. Although there might be safe, free applications available, greater attention should be paid to the source and to the host site to determine whether applications have been tested and verified.

6.  Back up phone data. It should be an established and regular practice to back up critical information on all computing devices – including smartphones. The requirements and procedure to back up a smartphone would be dependent on the platform and model. Instructions are usually provided either in the user manual or on the manufacturer’s website.

It is critical to note that backing up your data can allow viruses and other threats that are on your phone to be transferred to your PC, thus threatening the security of that device as well. Hence vigilance must be exercised to limit the susceptibility of all of your computing devices to viruses, hackers and other threats, and that they do not infect and re-infect each other.

7.  Encrypt or password-protect phone’s data. Although transmissions between your smartphone and your company’s server might be encrypted, the data on device is not. The phone is especially vulnerable when it is physically connected to another device, such as a PC, and a direct download is attempted. Some devices have built-in features to encrypt or otherwise protect the stored data, with access being allowed on successful entry of a password. If this capability is not available on your smartphone, a third party programme can used to provide this feature.

8.  Enable remote clear of data. Depending on the platform, most smartphones could either be programmed to erase its contents after a number of failed attempts to access or to erase when instructed by remote command. For the latter, it is critical to note that the device must be on in order to receive that instruction. If this feature is not available on your particular platform, again it can be secured separately as a third party application or as part of a mobile security software package.

9.  Invest in tracking software. Theft of mobile devices, especially smartphones has reached epidemic proportions in most parts of the world. However, it is almost equally likely for owners to lose their phones.  For a fee, some platforms, service providers, along with third party applications offer owners the ability to track down their smartphones. Depending on the features associated with that capability it might be possible to back up and/or remotely erase the stored data through that programme.

10.  Invest in mobile security software. All of the major platforms have some built-in security features that provide an excellent starting point for protecting your smartphone. However, depending on how valuable the device is to your personal and/or professional life, it might be prudent to invest in additional software protection to secure the device and your information. Some of the features that mobile security software can provide are:

  • protecting phones from malware, viruses, trojans, worms, as well as network attacks
  • encrypting specified files and folders
  • remotely blocking or erasing the phone’s storage if it is lost of stolen
  • locking the phone if the SIM card is removed
  • locating lost or stolen phones using a built-in GPS function.

Although implementing just one of the above suggestions would improve the security of your smartphone, better results will be achieved if a more comprehensive approach is employed. Depending on the actual device, some security features are already built in, but at the very least need to be activated. The key is to recognise that the security of your smartphone is your responsibility, and to the extent you can, do something about it.

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About the author

Michele Marius

Michele Marius has a wealth of experience in the telecoms and ICT space, which has been gained in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, and in the public and private sectors. She is the Editor and Publisher of ICT Pulse.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ict-pulse.com/2011/01/10-ways-to-protect-your-smartphone/

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  1. Ritz

    It is ironic that the same persons, including myself, who put a lot of effort into securing and safeguarding their laptops/computers, don’t do the same for their smartphones, albeit they are mini-computers themselves….

  2. Kamutula

    Even more ironic, is that these essential communication tools are more portable than laptops and desktops. Hence they are more susceptible to loss than their counterparts. The more reason they should take precedence in security and encryption. Great insight into what is supposed to be obvious, but so much overlooked.

  3. Arthur Goh

    Great posting and thanks a million for those useful safety tips.

    As one of the generation X, I must admit, I’m pretty ignorant of those mentioned potholes and weaknesses within the “IT toys”.

    Shall keep your advice in mind.

    Cheers!

  4. Frank Power

    Thanks for very useful tips. Sometimes, we ‘old-timers’ just “use” our smartphones, oblivious of the things that can ‘attack’ them or ignorant of what could/might happen.

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