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Concern over Australian mobile security

  • Australians not security conscious enough with smartphones
  • 50% of Australian's don't have a passcode on their phone
  • Private information up for grabs if you lose your phone
Written by Mikaella Clements

According to new research from PayPal, Australians are not sufficiently security conscious when it comes to their mobiles.

Jury's still out on whether or not we want any money right now nuh-now, nuh-now, nuh-now, but for now Australians have a decidedly lackadaisical approach to protecting their smartphones. Only just over half (51 per cent) of Australian smartphone users have a passcode on their phone, meaning that the mobile is open to anyone who happens to pick it up.

Click here for a guide on what to do if you lose your iPhone.

Smartphone security

This is alarming, because Australians – with their high smartphone usage rates – tend to keep everything on their phone: contacts, personal details, access to emails and messages, and even banking details. PayPal found that one in three smartphone users stay logged into mobile apps, meaning that a thief might not even need to hack into an app before they can start accessing personal information.

And while some apps – like PayPal, which stores all the customer's information online rather than on the device, protected by an anti-fraud system, and most banking apps – may take the steps to protect a customer's data on their own, others, particularly email apps, are easily opened. If you pick a common or easily guessed passcode for your banking app, too, it's that much more likely that a thief will be able to hack their way into the phone.

Despite one in six Australian smartphone users (that's 16 per cent!) reporting that they'd lost, misplaced, or had their phone stolen in the last year, security concerns just don't seem to rank highly.

Of those Australians who said that they'd had a phone disappear, one way or another, only 30 per cent remotely wiped their smartphone data after the loss of their phone. Less than half (43 per cent) changed their online passwords to keep thieves or anyone who happened to pick up the phone from continuing to access personal information.

Alastair MacGibbon, director at the University of Canberra's Centre for Internet Safety, said: "With over 12 million Australian smartphone users expected in 2012, criminals are now making moves to target mobile users. Australians must stay alert and ensure they protect themselves across all their devices. As the technology evolves and more Australians use their smartphone devices to fulfil a wider range of functions, consumers need to keep an eye out for fraudulent encounters and be educated about ways to safeguard their smartphones from cybercrime."

Here at the Compare Mobile Plans office, smartphone penetration is at 100%, and we proved ourselves an accurate microcosm of Australian society: exactly half of us have passcodes on our phones, and half of us don't.

Adam Wajnberg, staff writer, said: "I look at my phone every few minutes – for sports scores, twitter updates, SMS chats with the wife, etc. Having to password it every time would drive me nuts. I rely on iCloud and the remote erase option in the event I should (gasp) lose my phone and need to protect my email and other data, but given how permanently attached it is to my hand and eyeballs, I can’t see losing it as a big risk."

Adam's reliance on the remote data wipe is a good sign that he at least has a plan for what will happen in the (unlikely, horrific) event of him losing his iPhone. 

For those of us at Compare Mobile Plans who do have passcodes on our phones, often it's less about mobile security, and more about keeping unwanted members of our household out. One staff member cited the fact that his son has learned how to purchase things on iTunes, while for me personally it's about keeping my sixteen year old sister from stealing my phone to go on Facebook.

Somehow, mobile security just isn't something that has permeated the Australian consciousness yet. It definitely should be, and perhaps it soon will – after all, the smartphone revolution is still relatively new, and maybe it's just a matter of time. Or perhaps it's a matter of an international or national incident big enough to freak people out – after all, lots of people don't install virus protection software on their computer until their computer gets infected with its first virus.

Or maybe it's just a little education – after the research and discussion prompted by writing this article, a further 25% of the office has put a passcode on their phone.

Certainly there are reasons why you might feel secure enough to keep your phone unsecured, but in the end, doing something as simple as putting a passcode on your phone adds a bare couple of seconds to using it, and can go a long way to protecting your personal information. PayPal and the CIS came up with some other key ways for Australians to better protect themselves when using their smartphones, especially when doing some mobile shopping. They included:

  1. Set up a unique passcode as a "first line of defence".
  2. Only use reputable mobile sites and apps when you're entering in personal information, particularly banking information, and watch out for duplicate apps that mimic a company's official app. When unsure, download the app directly from the company's website.
  3. Watch out for people hacking into your phone via a free public WiFi network.
  4. Keep track of what you're sharing by reviewing the permission requests from apps carefully, and making sure you only share what you want to share.
  5. Avoid keeping highly important personal information on your phone, like your personal financial data.

Finding a secure app to do your mobile shopping through is a good idea.

Prashanth Ranganathan, PayPal's director of mobile security and risk, said: "Australian consumers are increasingly using their smartphones to shop and pay while on the go but are unaware of the size of the digital footprint stored in their smartphones. By transacting through PayPal, consumers are provisioned with an additional layer of protection by ensuring their personal financial information is never stored on the physical device and never shared with businesses they are transacting with."

Not scared off? If you'd like to join the smartphone craze, we'd be happy to help you out. If you'd like to talk to us at Compare Mobile Plans, we can help you find the plan and phone that would suit you. Give us a call on 1300 850 518 to find you the best phone and plan today!

Or take a look at some of Australia's favourite smartphones: the Apple iPhone 4S 16GB, the Nokia Lumia 800, or, to try something different, the brand new Samsung Galaxy SIII.


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