By 2015, there were an estimated 2 billion smartphone users in the market. This sensational growth has been spurred by intense technological innovation and the ease in which it’s been available. From high-end devices for those that can afford it to budget alternatives that have been unearthed from Asia, the entire world is becoming connected. And with our increased reliance upon smartphones, they’ve suddenly become electronic extensions of ourselves. And that’s largely due to the data they store – which, if you ask most users, is far more important than the actual physical handset itself.
Whether it’s storing photos, shopping online or exchanging emails for work, so much personal information is stored on these devices that mobile security is becoming a serious concern. We synchronise our phones to make payments, check our bank balance and even allow apps to gain access to our credit cards. And these actions, amongst many others, provide opportunities to a new modern-day form of digital criminals, who’ll not only find value in the physical handset you’re carrying, but the information within it.
What are the threats to smartphones?
Criminals can target smartphone devices in various ways, and it’s naïve to assume a mobile phone isn’t at risk in the same way a computer would be. In fact, with their surge in use – particularly in public places – they’re close to becoming more vulnerable than the PC you use at home or work.
- SMS. By today’s smartphone standards it may seem like an out-dated method, but targeting victims via SMS text messages is still a popular choice for hackers. Imitating a company, a message will be sent to a user prompting them to either follow a link or return a call. They’ll then be requested to provide more information to claim whatever the message was initially offering.
- Public Wi-Fi. Whilst the allure may be strong, free Wi-Fi in public areas also brings with it certain risks. Working professionals and commuters are prime targets, as they will often access free internet at restaurants, hotels and airports. Such locations, with their unrestricted access, give hackers the opportunity to disguise themselves as the network and make the targeted device send information to them instead of the Wi-Fi spot the victims think they’re connected to. Vital information such as emails, credit card details and passwords can all be accessible.
- Social Networking Sites. Social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter quickly adjusted and tailored themselves for smartphone users. And others – Instagram, Snapchat and Vine – were born in the aftermath of the smartphone revolution. As such, they’re the most used applications on a mobile device, and hackers have spotted the opportunities to spread malicious codes – some in the form of advertisements or shortened URL links.
- Rogue Apps. The iOS platform for the iPhone is very restrictive in terms of app development, but the Android market is far more open for third-party developers; making it more challenging security-wise. According to some security researchers, Android devices take up more than 90% of mobile malware. And one of the biggest contributing factors to such attacks is simple user ignorance. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, attacks on mobile devices aren’t taken as seriously as they are on computers or laptops. This makes certain users especially vulnerable to sophisticated apps running undetected in the background, as most users wouldn’t have the awareness to install anti-malware measures on their phone.
- Physical Loss or Theft. Yes, it’s the most obvious threat, but don’t let your complacency dismiss the fact that, in 2014 alone, 2.1 million Americans had their mobile phones stolen. And the most common occurrences were when users had left their devices unattended – either in public, in their cars or from a home that was burglarised. Undoubtedly, the stats for stolen or lost handsets would severely decrease if users remain more observant in how they use their devices in a public setting.
How to prevent data theft from Smartphones
Being aware of the potential risks is a good start, but for added security it helps to be a little more pro-active in ensuring the data stored on your phone remains in safe hands.
- Set passcodes. When setting up a brand new smartphone, you will have already been prompted to set a passcode or fingerprint ID for unlocking the device. If for whatever reason you have disabled this, put it back on! In the event of theft or misplacement, a locked screen will at least delay access for the unauthorised user; giving you enough time to either locate or lock off your device.
- Install security apps. Some of the most popular anti-virus computer solutions that you’re familiar with – such as Norton and Kaspersky – now offer protective solutions for mobile devices. It’s an excellent way of not only protecting the phone whilst using it yourself, but they also have the ability to track its location if it goes missing, and delete its content remotely. This is an incredibly useful feature if the data stored within your device is of high importance. Credit card information, passwords, work emails and online shopping accounts are prime pieces of data for cyber criminals to target.
- Avoid free versions of popular apps. As mentioned in the threats section, malicious apps are a serious threat – especially when masquerading as a free version of a popular app on a secondary app store. Make sure the app you’re viewing is on a trusted source – such as Google’s Google Play or Apple’s App Store – and read the reviews and ratings.
- Think twice before jailbreaking or rooting. Whether you’re jailbreaking an iPhone or rooting an Android, it’s important to remember you’ll be compromising the operating system’s existing security barriers. Most users root or jailbreak their phone to install apps which haven’t undergone the rigorous security checks of official app stores. This means the apps are less stable and secure when compared to ones from reputable and approved developers.
- Update your OS and apps. Although the constant update notifications may be irritating, they’re essential reminders that developers are continually improving and fixing security bugs to ensure your phone remains safe. Because as with most markets, the criminals are never far behind (if they’re not already ahead) when it comes to hacking.
How to get your data back if it is lost
Although the primary concern of a hack is what the hacker is going to DO with your information once they have (and often you will not even know it has been taken), there are some instances where the hacker simply destroys the data on your phone. In those instances, your best bet is to try a recovery software for your phone. If these programs aren’t able to recover your data, you may be out of luck!
In most scenarios concerning theft and misplacement of items, the best solution is to simply take the most fundamental precautions – remaining vigilant, keeping personal belongings close, and only trusting secure sources in the digital world.