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Keep your smartphone private: top four ways to keep hackers out

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Keep your smartphone private: top four ways to keep hackers out
This content is brought to you by Support.com Senior Director of Product Marketing, Marc Itzkowitz. Support.com offers cloud-based technology services and software for consumers and small businesses.

The opinions expressed in this story may not reflect the positions of PhoneArena.


As we put more and more vital information on our smartphones, the need to keep them safe, private and secure increases almost by the minute. The short list includes contact data, financial information, passwords, important documents, access to systems at your office or your home, or if you’re a celeb, pictures that you wouldn’t want shared over the Internet like what happened with Blake Lively.

It’s not just data that’s vulnerable, as it’s also been shown that the auto-answer feature installed on most smartphones can be hacked to transform the device into a listening machine that would enable someone to record and hear everything you say. This can be done by breaking into the phone's baseband processor -- which sends and receives radio signals on the cellular network--by exploiting bugs in the firmware of its radio chips.

Scary stuff, but before we get into tips on how you can prevent your phone from getting hacked, let’s review first the three basic ways smartphones are attacked:

Keep your smartphone private: top four ways to keep hackers out
Physically –
The most basic method is simply gaining physical access to the device.  Next time you’re out to dinner see how many people take their phones out and just leave them on the table.  Then they casually get up to go to the restroom, and there the phone sits, available for any passerby (or a less than honest friend or co-worker) to have their way with it and all its data.  

This is an unnecessary and easily preventable security risk that jeopardizes both personal and professional information!

Wirelessly – Your phone now has many wireless channels going in and out of it that are hot targets for those thrill seekers who prefer to hack in at close range.

For starters there is the Bluetooth connection for hands-free headsets (sure to gain popularity after a recent World Health Organization report linked cell phones to cancer!). These lines are also used for transmitting music to your car, or exchanging contact information with others at work or in a bar (and unfortunately can also be used to inadvertently share those naughty pictures from last weekend).  

That brings us to Wi-Fi, which can be exploited just like an airport hot-spot for laptops. Typically this is done by hackers who set up a fake “hot-spot”, and, when you connect to it they can view your information or install software on your phone that can share information surreptitiously.

Keep your smartphone private: top four ways to keep hackers out
Scarily enough, even a business card and SMS can be used to not only hack into your phone but also run an application that will retrieve specific data back to the thief, send viruses, or create a “denial of service” scenario.

Over-the-air – Of course the most powerful connection to your phone is via its Internet connection, which offers high-speed access directly to your data (from anywhere in the world – and a proven channel for stealing data since the Internet was invented!).

Similar to the fake “hot-spot” scenario above, the hacker tries to convince you to go to a website that installs spyware on your phone, which then acts as a “back-door” for transmitting all that personal information.

OK, now that we’ve covered the three basics of how hackers get in, let’s cover the top four ways to keep hackers out:

1. Set a device lockout. All smartphones come with a security lockout. Granted people don’t like to keep unlocking their phones every time there is an email but leaving your phone open can prove disastrous.   

There is a compromise solution: find a lock-out that is long enough for ongoing, day-to-day stuff, but short-enough to protect your phone should it wind up in enemy hands (fifteen minutes might be a good compromise). On Android phones there is a feature that allows you to create a finger-swipe pattern “password” which is typically faster than a traditional typed password.

While we’re on the subject, we should also mention that using a stolen but unblocked smartphone with a registered contract SIM could be used by police to turn the tables on the thief, as in the case following the recent London riots or incidents with commuters in Chicago .

2. Choose friends and Bluetooth wisely.  When establishing connections such as a Bluetooth connection, you need to authorize the “pairing”. If asked to “pair” make sure you know with whom you are doing this (much like Dad’s advice on choosing friends…).

You can also add security by making sure your Bluetooth connection is “NOT discoverable”. By being “discoverable” you are inviting connections you may not want.  If you don’t require Bluetooth pairing then just shut it off entirely (an added advantage is you’ll also extend your battery life).
 
For Wi-Fi connections, make sure that when you’re connecting to a network you know that it is a trustworthy network (just like with your laptop).  Be especially careful when in public hot-spot places like Starbucks® or an airport.

Keep your smartphone private: top four ways to keep hackers out
3. Protect from viruses
(another sound piece of advice from Dad!). Smartphones are not remarkably different from PCs in that they also can get viruses, and more-and-more those viruses are designed to get at that treasure-trove of information that you have on your phone.  Thus make sure you’re running some form of anti-virus software to prevent malicious spyware from winding up on your phone and sending your information out over the web.

4. Have a plan to recover your lost phone. As we said before, it’s not uncommon for this mobile wonder to grow legs and walk away (especially if you leave it on the bar or restaurant table).  If this happens, make use of its built-in GPS to find where it went.   

With the right software you can dial-in to the web from any computer and see where your phone was last seen. If you lost it behind the couch cushions you can also use this type of software to have it “scream” so you can echo-locate it even if you have it set on “silent” mode.  

And if you’re still having issues, tech support companies such as Support.com can help make sure you’re getting the most out of your device.


This content is brought to you by Support.com Senior Director of Product Marketing, Marc Itzkowitz. Support.com offers cloud-based technology services and software for consumers and small businesses.

The opinions expressed in this story may not reflect the positions of PhoneArena.

4 Comments
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posted on 23 Aug 2011, 07:58 3

1. wassup (Posts: 565; Member since: 23 Jun 2011)


in other words.... use common sense?

posted on 23 Aug 2011, 08:17 2

2. SuperAndroidEvo (Posts: 4090; Member since: 15 Apr 2011)


What I preach all the time!

Common sense, some people have it, & some don't.

posted on 23 Aug 2011, 13:21

4. NeXoS (Posts: 278; Member since: 03 May 2011)


I've never used anti-virus and I never have problems.

posted on 23 Aug 2011, 13:22

5. SavageLucy42 (Posts: 211; Member since: 24 Mar 2011)


Be aware that most of those tracking applications can't get closer than within a few blocks of your phone. And don't lose your phone and then call a customer service rep to have them track it. We can't.

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