Smartphones are becoming an increasingly necessary part of life in the modern world, and not having one, even for just a few hours, can be a huge handicap.
As time goes on, this trend looks set to continue, and while these devices are definitely a huge asset to us in life and work, there are also some drawbacks to relying on them.
Until now, smartphones have enjoyed relative security. Compared to computers, they seem pretty much impenetrable, with smartphone viruses almost unheard of.
We’ve all heard the horror stories of people falling victim to phone hackers, resulting in their most personal images and data being plastered across the internet. It’s spine-chilling stuff, but still pretty uncommon, and easily avoided.
However, cyber criminals are unfortunately a smart bunch, and are finally beginning to turn their attention to the world of smartphones.
A recent example of this was the WannaCry ransomware, which you may remember from the huge digital attack earlier this year.
Thankfully, the WannaCry outbreak was stopped dead in its tracks thanks to some impressive work by Avast, and damage was limited. Now, though, the same ransomware is on the loose again – and this time it’s targeting smartphone users.
The software in question is actually more like a copy of the original, and has been dubbed WannaLocker by Avast, who are working on fighting it.
It arose in China, where the ransomware gained access to phones by masquerading as a plugin for a popular game, and carried out the usual procedure of encrypting users’ files and asking for a payment in exchange for access to them.
Interestingly, the perpetrators behind this newest attack were only asking for a small ransom – the equivalent to about 5 or 6 USD, but future attacks, if successful, could well end up demanding much higher sums.
Avast are looking into ways around this new issue, and have advised all smartphone users to install antivirus software. However, there are plenty of other aspects to the smartphone security debate, which we’ll take a quick look at here.
The Biggest Threats to Smartphone Users
As mentioned above, viruses and hacking are still fairly alien to the world of mobile devices. There are still some threats out there, though, which may well become a much more prominent issue in years to come.
One such example is browser-based hacking. As the name suggests, this form of hacking relies on criminals gaining access to the phone via an internet browser like Google Chrome or Safari. It’s already a problem for computers, and looks to become more widespread among smartphone users.
What makes browser-based hacking so effective is that it can bypass most of the security software on a device, rendering even a well-secured machine defenceless if done properly.
This seems scary, but the solutions are the same as for computers – use reliable browsers (Chrome tends to come out on top in the security stakes), and keep them updated and well-equipped with the relevant extensions and security programs.
Another threat facing mobiles is that of remote hacking. This is a particularly big problem for Android devices, many of which support apps which aren’t fully secure or vetted by Google. This means they are vulnerable to hacking, and any time a user accesses an unfamiliar WiFi network they are putting themselves at risk of leaving their data wide open.
Finally, one huge danger with mobiles rests squarely on the shoulders of their users. Simply put, many smartphone owners are highly complacent about security, and don’t take it nearly as seriously as they would with their laptop or computer.
In fact, a staggering 57% of adults in 2014 had no idea that security software even EXISTED for mobile devices.
Even more alarmingly, a study in the same year found that 50% of mobile users never set passwords or make backups, leaving their files and personal details at the mercy of even the most incompetent hacker.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that about 83% of lost smartphones end up having their business data compromised – if you lose your unprotected phone you should expect to lose your data.
So many of us invest time and money in protecting our computers, but entirely neglect our mobile devices, even though they often contain just as much sensitive data.
In fact, since we carry our phones everywhere and regularly connect to several new networks every day, it could be argued that security is a much greater concern than with desktop computers.
So what can we do?
There are several steps smartphone users can – and should – take to keep their mobiles safe and avoid the risk of being hacked or infected with malware.
Many of these security measures are basically free, and take almost no time at all to implement. Here are a few simple steps you can take to dramatically increase the safety of your phone:
1. Avoid Apps You Don’t Trust
There are so many apps around nowadays that it’s impossible for them all to be properly vetted before becoming available to the public. As a result, many apps contain dangerous malware or spyware that is just waiting to infect your unprotected phone.
Only download apps from trusted manufacturers, and from sources that are safe. Don’t be fooled into thinking the big app stores are perfectly risk-free – always exercise your own common sense and avoid apps that look suspicious or unofficial.
2. Be Careful When Connecting to Networks
It’s extremely easy to connect to WiFi with most modern phones. In fact, many of us have enabled automatic connections, so all we need to do is walk into a building with an open network to find ourselves online.
This is dangerous, because lots of networks aren’t secured, and provide a gateway for hackers to access your phone and the data within. To avoid this risk, simply disable automatic connections and only join WiFi networks that are secured and password protected.
The same applies to Bluetooth – if you aren’t currently using any devices, make sure the Bluetooth function on your phone is switched off.
3. Use a Strong PIN
This one is a little basic, and probably won’t do much to deter a committed hacker, but it might also be the most important bit of phone security advice out there.
Simply put – make sure you’ve secured your phone with a PIN. And make sure it’s a strong one: as many numbers as you can realistically remember will give you the best chance of safety.
This will prevent anyone who stumbles across your lost or stolen phone from gaining instant, unrestricted access to all of your files, text messages, social media accounts, and apps. It doesn’t take long to enter a PIN, and these days it’s a no brainer.
Follow these steps, and you should be fine. And don’t panic – malware and hacking is still far rarer in the world of smartphones than among computers.
However, as technology evolves, so does crime, and in the future smartphone security will certainly be a far bigger problem than it is today. Why not get a head start?