How Secure is Your Mobile Device?


Spring 2011 — Security News and Advice

Mobile devices have become an integral part of our lives and many of us rely on them to get through our days. It’s easy to see why—mobile devices allow us to work on the go, keep in contact with friends and family, and even entertain ourselves during long airport delays.

But their very popularity has opened the door to some serious risks, including the loss of money and personal information. In fact, McAfee Labs predicts that 2011 will be a “turning point” where we will see mobile threats escalate significantly, targeting a number of platforms. Not only are threats we associate with computers, such as viruses and identity theft, moving to mobile devices, these devices are also easily lost or stolen, potentially putting your information in the hands of the bad guys. What’s more, as Internet-enabled devices like smartphones grow in sophistication, allowing us to do things like online banking and shopping, they open the door for the loss of even more critical data—such as credit card numbers and passwords.

So, whether you are practically addicted to your mobile device, or just a casual user, it pays to learn about the risks and how to avoid them.

What’s at stake?

When your device is lost or stolen, not only do you have to pay to replace the hardware (which can be costly), you may also lose valuable contacts, information, and photos, which is why it is important to backup your information.

In the case of theft, your personal information can wind up in the hands of the crook, unless you’ve taken steps to secure your information, such as contracting a service that allows you to remotely lock down your device and erase information.

And just like your home computer, once you connect to the Internet, the risks multiply. If you connect to an unsecured wireless connection with your mobile device, anything you send can potentially be accessed by cybercriminals, including your passwords. If your smartphone lands in the wrong hands, crooks can potentially login to banking and shopping sites if you store your passwords at the site’s login.

Downloading applications (apps) onto your mobile device opens another area of risk since mobile applications can be used to access your personal information and account details. For instance, a mobile game application called “3-D Anti-Terrorist” was recently to blame for dialing international numbers in the middle of the night, using mobile owners’ accounts and leaving them with hefty bills. And, just last summer a free wallpaper app was blamed for stealing information, such as the mobile phone number, text messages and voicemail numbers, from over 1 million Android handset users.

The bottom line is that the more personal information you have stored in your mobile device—whether it is data you entered or information that can be accessed by an application—the more at risk you are for loss of money and even identity theft.

How to keep your mobile device safe
Although mobile users face a variety of risks, they don’t have to be overwhelming provided you take the right precautions.

Here are some helpful hints to keep you and your mobile data safe:

  • Use a password to lock your device.
  • When connecting to the Internet via Wi-Fi, make sure that you use a secure connection or save your online banking and online shopping transactions for when you have a secure connection.
  • Don’t store personal information such as passwords and account numbers on your device, and never allow applications to “remember” your user names and passwords.
  • Consider purchasing smartphone protection software, such as McAfee® WaveSecure software, which can lock your phone and wipe your information remotely in case it is lost or stolen, locate it anytime and anywhere, and backup and restore your data. Try a free 7-day trial of McAfee WaveSecure software.
  • Only download apps from specific, well-known providers, such as the iTunes store or the Android store, and check the application’s privacy policy, if it has one, before you download it to see if your information will be shared.
  • When you are out, never leave your mobile device unattended. It only takes a few seconds for someone to grab it.

Of course, the best piece of advice is to treat your mobile device like your wallet. Protect it, look after it, and try not to keep all your valuable personal information in one place.

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