Is Your Smartphone Putting You at Risk of Identity Theft?
By Neil Harrison LL.B. (Hons)
With so many users around the globe now treating their Smartphone’s, iPads, or other tablets like their PCs, the risk of picking up viruses or making them vulnerable to hackers has increased significantly.
Since Apple’s successful launch of the iPad in 2010, there has been an explosion in the technology industry and other companies have followed suit, including BlackBerry with its PlayBook and Hewlett Packard with its TouchPad, but neither have reached the same level of popularity as the Apple iPad.
Google has every intention of changing that. Google went mobile in 2008 with its Android operating system. Like Microsoft Windows on PCs or OSX on Apple Macintosh, or Macs as they are now marketed, Android is the software in control of these devices.
Android is an open source system. This means that the code is developed by a community of technical advisors and programmers who work together on the software. The code is then free for anyone to use, which manufacturers such as HTC, Samsung and Sony have on their handsets.
The code has been made available for Smartphone’s and tablets, and since then there have been many tablets launched, like the Motorola Xoom or Amazon’s Kindle Fire, which are all based on the Android operating system. Recently, there has been a reversal in the race to make the smallest possible phones with some manufacturers opting for larger screens. The Samsung Galaxy Note is enormous by normal mobile phone standards, and as such, has coined the term ‘Phablet’ because it is considered to be a cross between a phone and a tablet.
When you buy a new PC, you usually get anti-virus and firewall software, or there is a wealth of software available to download or purchase to protect your online activities. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to come as part of the deal when purchasing a new mobile phone or tablet. This appears to be rather strange as consumers tend to treat their phones or tablets like PCs, checking emails, doing online shopping or even conducting their internet banking.
The more consumers buy these devices, the more they will appeal to hackers. For example, there are more PCs out there than there are Macs, therefore there are more viruses designed to attack them, it really is a numbers game. Also, as a great deal depends on open source coding, especially for the Android market, it’s easier for hackers to find vulnerabilities in this public code.
There is Some Protection!
Some companies that are known for protecting your PCs started moving their defences onto Smartphone’s and tablets.
Their software is able to scan apps you download for viruses; they give protection while you surf the web and can enable call blocking lists for more peace of mind.
Whether you do or don’t have this software, you must always:
- Ensure you enable a pass code and keep your device locked
- Don’t save passwords in your device. Lots of people save every password they have in the notes app on their iPhone. This ranges from their WordPress blog login to their online banking information.
- Always check links sent via text or over the internet are legitimate
- Use a trusted application, to allow remote wiping of your device.
Traditionally cell phones have been immune to viruses simply because they lack standardized operating systems. However, as smart phones and tablets increase their market share, the hackers latest virus pose a clear and present danger to mobile communications.
It is very likely that the risk of mobile device virus attacks will increase as operating systems gain more of a market share. There is also the spread of infection for Bluetooth and multimedia messaging services (MMS) to consider.
Smart phones and tablets, which can share programs and data, could easily attract hackers at a level far more disruptive than computer viruses. Mobile device viruses can be spread by either Bluetooth or MMS communications. Bluetooth viruses can infect phones with the above technology within a local area. The infected phone can then be moved into another tower’s range at which time the attacked and infected device can infect a new set of phones. The good news here is that owing to the relatively slow spread of the virus, it allows antivirus developers some time to create some protection from such a virus.
MMS viruses, like computer viruses, can send copies to everyone in the infected phones address book and can copy themselves into a new device in about two minutes. Since about 2005, hackers have developed hybrid viruses can that spread with both Bluetooth and MMS connections.
Don’t Be Fooled by a Free Offer or Game
Some of the viruses doing the mobile rounds are Trojans, which are programs that pretend to be something else, (like the Trojan horse that allowed the Greeks to topple the city of Troy). Many mobile device users have reported receiving the offer of a free game that will infect their device when opened or installed.
Although smart phone viruses are pretty limited at the moment, the number of viruses can be expected to increase.
Facebook users had a problem in 2009 when a smart phone virus hijacked their passwords when they updated their statuses through their mobile devices. The virus then posted status updates advertising a trial pack of a colon cleanser and gave the URL for this product.
As credit card transactions become more commonly used over time, mobile phones and tablets should be updated with the relevant software that is more resistant to virus technology.
#InternetCrime #IdentityTheft #Smartphone