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Smart and safe – looking after your mobile phone

  • Rise of malware apps and cybercriminals
  • Learn how to protect your smartphone
  • Stop your smartphone from being hacked or stolen
Written by Mikaella Clements

A wave of new security concerns around smartphone usage has forced many customers into finding new ways to protect their smartphones.

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Smartphone Security

We all love using the internet on our phones, but are we offering our bank accounts and identities up for malicious hackers? Most of us are confident enough to navigate the dangerous waters of the internet on our home computers and laptops just fine. However, the new format of viewing pages on a phone, not to mention specific "phone dangers" like apps and WiFi hotspots, means that most people still have a lot to learn about keeping their smartphones safe and locked down.

Click here for tips on staying safe online on your home computer or laptop.

It's important to be able to protect your smartphone now. A leading online security firm, Websense, has published a report indicating that we are currently experiencing "epidemic levels of data theft", led by three particular factors:

  1. Profitable social media lures,
  2. malware that is increasingly hard to detect, and,
  3. sophisticated hacking of confidential data.

Websense pointed out that hackers have started taking advantage of "the human element as the weakest link" – by trying to pique our sympathy, greed, or, more frequently these days, curiousity. Links on social media like Facebook, where we get spammed with inane updates, charity pleas, and cute new games on our news feed every day, are particularly likely to be taken up. On a phone, it may be more difficult to tell whether or not a link looks legitimate, which means that you should be extra careful before clicking on anything.

Some of the key findings by Websense included:

  • 55 per cent of data-stealing malware communications are web-based
  • 43% of Facebook activity is streaming media, including viral videos. Websense points out that the streaming percentage is especially significant because "web lures (like videos, fake gift offers, surveys, and scams) pretty on human curiousity and have moved onto the social network".
  • 74% of email is spam, down from last year's 84% - a good sign, except that 92% of email spam contains a URL, meaning that spammers are getting smart and creating an "increasingly blended nature of today's email threats". Websense warns for the top five email malware lures: order notifications, ticket confirmations, delivery notices, test emails, and tax refund information. Be very, very careful before you follow any links or answer anything in an unfamiliar email containing these details.

But what about when it comes to mobile phones? Here, we'll go through some safety hazards that may come up when using a smartphone, and how to stay safe while using your phone.

Malware apps

Apps that contain spyware, malware, Trojans, and other viruses have become a great concern over the last few months. People have particularly pointed towards Google's open-for-all Android Market, which is, despite the introduction of safety precautions like Google's bouncer, more likely to house security threats in the form of hidden malware within apps.

Cyber security researches have warned that the number of malware apps on the Android Market may reach 120, 000 by the end of 2012.

The latest threat is a fake version of the newly released Instagram Android app, which uses the popularity of Instagram, which currently has millions of users on Apple's iOS, to trick unsuspecting customers into downloading a fake app. Security firm Sophos's senior technology consult Graham Cluely explains: "Once installed, the app will send background SMS messages to premium rate services earning its creators revenue."

Cluely continues: "Android malware is becoming a bigger and bigger problem. Just last week we saw a bogus edition of the Angry Birds Space game and it's quite likely that whoever is behind this latest malware are also using the names and images of other popular smartphone apps as bait. Infected Androids are now effectively part of a botnet, under the control of malicious hackers. Android users need to be extremely careful when downloading applications from sites, especially when they're not official Android markets."


How do I keep safe?

Look into installing anti-virus software on your phone in the same way that you would for a computer. Some providers, like Vodafone, offer this software on some of their plans.

Be sure to read everything the app throws at you during the installation process. Trend Micro researchers say: "The end user often fails to closely inspect the permissions request dialogue in their haste to use the app and, for the average end user, it is unclear when permissions are given and what the application is actually capable of. Once the application is installed, the OS doesn't recheck with the user and goes on to use the permissions without prompting the user again. This model... has the net effect of putting each user in charge of their own security, rather than the operating system."

If you're using an iPhone, keep your Apple ID and password secure. Apple have recently ratcheted up their App store security, including asking users to choose three security questions and answers and a backup email address. An answer to these security questions and entering your password is being prompted more often when downloading new apps, so that Apple knows for sure it's you who's downloading the product.

Use your common sense. Download apps that have a lot of positive reviews, are highly rated, and are familiar to you. Make sure you read everything clearly. If the app information has any strange details, whether it be font, misspellings, or clear advertising ploys that don't make sense in context, maybe it's time to pick a different game.

Data hot-spots

Free public WiFi is a great thing. But be warned – if it doesn't require a password, you may be open to people accessing your data. Simple plug-ins like "Firesheep" allow users to scan over open WiFi hotspots for unprotected cookies – which may include such details as your Paypal, Facebook, Twitter, and email log-ins and passwords.

Once they've downloaded this data, they can use it at any time, and you may find yourself being stolen from weeks or even months down the track.

How do I keep safe?

There are two basic options when it comes to avoiding the dangers of public WiFi:

  1. Don't use it. If it doesn't have a password, don't log in. If it has a password – even if there is just a sign on the door of the cafe that says "free WiFi" and tells you the username and password, then every individual connection is secure. If there is no password, however, the safest option is always avoidance. Use up a few more of the precious MBs on your provider data plan, and stay safe.
  2. Install a service that hides your data and keeps you safe. A popular one is "Cloud", which is free for up to 1GB of data per month.

Lost or stolen device

Even if you've protected your smartphone with a PIN, it's relatively simple for a technologically savvy thief to break into your phone and start merrily using your data, passwords, and any banking accounts connected to your phone.

Breaking passwords is not particularly hard for the experienced hacker. You can make it more difficult by avoiding simple phrases and using a combination of upper and lower case letters along with numbers.

Luckily, we have a guide on what to do about a lost or stolen smartphone.

How do I keep safe?

  1. Pick strong passwords. A good way to do it is to combine two words that aren't related, use a combination of upper and lowercase letters and numbers, and don't use any super personal details. A strong password could be: your favourite teacher in school, plus the current Prime Minister of Australia, plus your grandmother's year of birth: TylerGillard1921 = difficult for thieves to guess.
  2. Install tracker apps. Tracker apps can help you find your phone once it's gone missing, or, if it proves to be impossible to find, they can wipe all your data and information off remotely so that nobody can access your private information.
  3. Keep an eye on your phone. If you know where it is all the time, it will be that much harder to lose!

The point of this article is not to scare you off getting a smartphone. They are fantastic devices that make our lives easier on a daily basis. However, as with anything, it's important that we don't let opportunistic scammers ruin our fun! Take care to protect your phone, and you'll find that a little bit of care and forethought will go most of the way to protecting you. Don't forget that hackers and scammers prey on the careless: if you're keeping an eye out for them, most likely you're not going to get into trouble. Common sense and awareness are your guiding lights in this particular danger.

Interested in getting a smartphone?
Check out the best cap plans and have a look at some of the plans available for some of Australia's favourite smartphones: the Apple iPhone 4S 32GB, the Nokia Lumia 800, or, to try something different, the brand new Samsung Galaxy Note.

If you're still having trouble finding a plan, or have any further questions about smartphone security, please don't hesitate to call us on 1300 850 518 and we'll be happy to help you further.


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