Data Security, Privacy, and Your Mobile Phone
As we’ve blogged about topics such as data privacy, security breaches, and the like, we often get the following comment: is there anything I can do to protect myself? You know, most companies like ours are “good privacy and security citizens” and we adhere to, and often surpass, privacy regulations and guidelines. However, just like always, there are companies and individuals who try to “game” the system (and even some who unwittingly cause problems through lack of knowledge). One of our goals is to keep you, the consumer, informed about what you can do to protect yourself from data security breaches that may lead to data privacy breaches. This is why I would like to talk to you about your cell phone.
Listen up folks: there are more than 5 billion cell phone subscribers in the world and 293 million of them are in the U.S. That’s a lot of phones and they are becoming increasingly smart. By this I mean you can access the Internet which means that you can do pretty much anything that you now do on your laptop or iPad or name-your-personal-device. In other words, you can do your email and banking, send tweets, map your location, buy a book, make travel arrangements, as well as download and use an increasing number of applications designed especially for your phone. And soon you may be able to use them just like a credit card.
So? In a previous post I talked about one of the most important things that you can do to protect your data, setting strong passwords for each of your online accounts. However, I did not touch upon an item we all have that could represent a large data security breach. Yep, you got it: it’s your cell phone!
As a part of your “spring cleaning,” I highly recommend that you include your cell phone. For example, did you know that every time you visit a website or type in personal information (like your user name and password) a record of it is saved to your phone? If your phone is lost or stolen, that information could be retrieved by a simple click of a button. And that’s not all. You are also at risk of electronic attacks. For example, if you are connecting over an unsecured Wi-Fi your data could be grabbed as it “passes through the air” or you could be redirected to a website that then tries to infect you with a mobile virus. I don’t mean to FUD you in the classical marketing use of the term, but I do want you to understand that treating your cell phone cavalierly could bring you lots of trouble down the road. To completely understand what’s at risk and what you can do to mitigate that risk, the Get Safe Online website has a great page on protecting mobile phones. As an aside, the website has a lot of useful information about what you can do to ensure that you are safe and secure on the Internet.
Now, here are some basic guidelines to consider:
- Treat your cell phone just like your wallet. Keep it close by and secure. And remember it’s just like your laptop or desktop computer—all the same security rules should apply.
- Password-protect your cell phone and just like any other password, create a combination that won’t be easily guessed by others. And make sure that your phone automatically locks if you have not used it within a few minutes.
- Make sure that any application you use on your phone does not store your login details or allows automatic login.
- DO NOT store user login or password information in your contacts or texts.
There’s a great, simple step-by-step procedure in WikiHow about how to protect a mobile phone from being stolen and what you should do if it is stolen. In short, just like any credit card you should have the right information handy to disable it as soon as you realize that it’s lost or stolen.
Now as an aside: did you know that a lot of Smartphone cameras store personal information, like location (the exact GPS location), in photos? If you don’t “strip out” the information, you can make it easy for someone to figure out exactly where a specific photo was taken (when you upload the photo to a website). If you don’t want the location information to be known, lifehacker tells you how get rid of it.
On a personal note: I recently got one of these new fangled smart phones and I love it. But I have to confess, it took me a while to “get” just how careful I needed to be regarding its security (yes, even a quasi-techie can be cavalier). So I thought that I’d pass on what I learned to you!