Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Got a Smart Phone? Fine! BUT Are You A Smart User?

The SmartPhone is the latest and greatest techno-wonder that almost every American consumer believes s/he needs to own. (I don’t, but then I have a fine desk  top on which I do most of my work.) Anyway, a recent piece in Consumer Reports (June, p. 19) discloses most SmartPhone owners know litle or nothing of protecting their interests and security when they use the device. The article shows most people don’t even take basic precautions and in many ways are ripe for the plucking- their IDs, their privacy, their online security.

Some of the issues, problems:

- Too many apps, most too intrusive

The good news is that 48 million users stopped installing them because they requested too many privileges. (This followed a 2011 UC-Berkeley study that studied hundreds of Android apps and found 1 in 3 asked for more privileges than needed)

The bad news is that while malicious apps may not lurk around every corner they’re often difficult to spot. Consumer Reports notes that one survey suggested that for 1.6 million users “what seemed to be a well-known brand name app was actually a malicious impostor”.

Advice for those who want to install any apps:

1) Install few or NO apps

2) Choose apps from a reputable brand and make sure their reviews include no credible security complaints

3) If the app uses sensitive personal info make sure it can’t be used without entering password

4) Don’t use the phone to store sensitive data like PINS or passwords

Additional precautions include:

1) Set up a Screen lock and unless you have an iPhone 5 use a pass code that contains more than four letters, numbers and symbols

2) If you use a lot of apps be sure to add a security app.

3) Back up all important data, especially as last year alone 7 million smartphones were irreparably damaged, lost or stolen and never recovered.

All of the preceding apply with special force to children with these devices. CR projects that upwards of 5 million pre-teens will use smartphones this year but in so doing they “may unwittingly disclose personal information or risk their safety."

Every pre-teen user needs to be savvy and know the safety protocols expected!

- Problems with Mobility-Size

One of the main draws of smartphones is their compact size, utility and mobility. But the latter can be a major downside if users-owners aren’t careful. Some aspects of mobility to be aware of with reasons to exercise caution:

1) Smartphones’ small size makes them easy to steal or lose. Owners nomadic transports of them also leaves them liable to a startling variety of mishaps – from dropping them on a subway, to being stolen with the owner tracked - or even ID theft, using data left on it.

2) Smartphones often contain lots of information people would prefer to keep private such as contact lists, text messages, phone numbers and appointments. With all these in play many owners consider their phones irreplaceable, yet almost 70 percent of owners haven’t backed up their data.

3) Smart phones routinely accept texts and photos sent from other phones or the internet. Text messages can also contain addresses of malicious websites. Others can add unexpected charges to one’s phone bill.

4) Smartphones’ very small size complicates enhanced security. The small screen makes It cumbersome to type in the combination of at least SIX letters, numbers and symbols, i.e. that reasonable security requires. (Some phones do offer password alternative, but only 8 percent of owners use them)

Other issues of which users need to be aware:

1) WiFi “Hot spots”: Hot spots are public locations where WiFi is available, i.e. hotels, retail shops and airports. Before using ANY app to do business at a Hot spot, make sure you’ve checked its privacy policy to make sure any wireless transmissions are secure. (Privacy policies aren’t always clear about security practices) According to one security specialist  frmo Electronic Frontiers quoted in the CR piece: “Most consumers don’t realize that when they’re transmitting information over an open Wi-Fi network it can be intercepted.”

2) Don’t fall for text spam. They often contain malicious software or lead to a bogus site. Word to the wise? Don’t click on any unfamiliar messages.

3) Turn off location tracking. It may be a pain, but disable it unless you need it (such as for driving directions)

4) Clean out the old phone before recycling it. That means you remove any memory card and aim to restore the phone’s factory setting.

From the above one gathers that smartphone security is no better than the weakest link in a chain that includes the manufacturers, buyers and WiFi networks available to users. Once owners do all they can, it’s up to the smartphone makers to hold up their end. One major new refinement would be the ability to swipe a smartphone’s info clean if it’s stolen and moved to a remote location. Hopefully the next generation will have this feature!

No comments: