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As more of us become increasingly dependent on our smartphones as the center of our personal universes, we often ignore basic security measures that are essential in keeping our private information away from prying eyes. While the vast majority of us are unlikely to be the subject of intensive targeting by the NSA, the fact remains that there are those malicious individuals out there looking steal important bits of your important personal data.Thankfully though, there are a few steps that you can take to help safeguard your phone from would be hackers.
Identifying Potential Security Breaches
Our smartphone’s most valuable feature is its ability to connect us to the world through the Internet. While most of the time we are connected through our phone’s 3G data plan on our provider’s cellular network, our phone is constantly searching for open Wi-Fi networks with which to link up with. Most of us have come to expect open Wi-Fi networks to be a public good in places like airports and cafes. Many cities have started becoming ‘wireless’, setting up free Internet connects in major city centers to allow residents to surf the web while sitting in public areas. These easy access points are useful for those of us who are looking to escape the confines of the office, they can present hackers with a way into our private systems, thus presenting a significant security risk.
In many cases, as Wi-Fi connections become more widely available through the expansion of public hotspots by Internet service providers, the risks surrounding the unauthorized access to your phone grows exponentially. In some cases, phones that are issued by the same companies that are installing the Wi-Fi networks may seek to make connections without even asking the user for permission.
In a recent article by reporter Steve Henn that was put out by National Public Radio, he and a friend highlighted the dangers posed by unsecured networks. Henn’s friend succeeded in connecting a data collection device called a Pwn Plug to the network that Henn’s phone was linked up to, quickly snatching up massive amounts of data in the span of only a few seconds. Understanding the danger posed to our emails, passwords, and other private information by these open networks can be daunting, but there are some measures that you can take to prevent the theft of your data.
Keeping Your Data Safe From Prying Eyes
First, make sure that your data is encrypted on your device. While most major ecommerce websites have encryption built into the stages at which you perform your transactions, the remainder of the information on your phone could still be vulnerable to data collection. Keeping your data encrypted is a small step to help make it more difficult for those looking to steal your data from gleaning out crucial details such as passwords or other sensitive bits.
Second, over the time that you have had your phone, you have doubtlessly connected with a large number of different networks that you neither recognize nor remember. While it might be an annoying process, go through the list of your phone’s saved networks and tell it to forget the ones that you are unlikely to use on a regular basis.
Third, refrain from connecting to public networks that you are uncertain of their security. These primarily include open connections that are not password protected from places like public transportation hubs or city center networks. Beware though even from Wi-Fi connections at places like our favorite cafes where every customer can ask for the password. If you are unsure of who has access to the network, the make sure to exercise extra caution.
Finally, it is essential to remember that our data security is dependent on us alone. Take that extra few seconds to think about the potential risks that you are opening yourself up to the next time you see your phone asking you to connect to an open network and weigh out the possible dangers that you may be exposing your data to before clicking join.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Proximity, LLC and Secure Channels, Inc. open new office in Irvine, California
Proximity, LLC and Secure Channels, Inc. are international, high-technology companies under the helm of Richard Blech, working in partnership to provide cutting-edge services to a wide spectrum of corporate and government internet users.
Proximity, LLC, where Richard Blech serves as CEO, is focused on internet commercial activities and transactions, offering customers Geo Location, security and Point of Sale services to improve business and product delivery for telecommunications, retail, financial, manufacturing, government and utilities customers.
Richard Blech is President of Secure Channels, a cyber-security firm developing the latest, state-of-the-art, patented encryption technologies to ensure secure, tamper-proof data transmissions.
Proximity and Secure Channels also have offices in Switzerland, Chicago and Washington State.
Protecting Ourselves Comes Naturally
Most of us are careful about protecting our property. We install home security systems and car alarms, chain our bikes to telephone poles, and hide our silverware in the sock drawer before going on holiday. It is a wonder, then, that we are often not as vigilant when it comes to the protection of our online presence.
A fundamental, yet effective way to protect yourself online, is to never recycle your passwords. The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) in the US, which educates the online community about digital safety, agrees that this continues to be the foremost defence tactic against identity theft and cybercrimes.
It Won’t Happen to Me
Well, it just might. In 2012, 17% of the European population were the victims of identity theft crimes. In the UK, a staggering 20% of residents were hit by identity thieves, and it cost them £1,076 on average. So, the chances of you falling victim to a crime of this nature is 1-in-5. Are you willing to take that bet?
Millions of Victims, Billions of Dollars
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the United States, identity theft is now far more costly to Americans than regular property crimes. In 2012 alone, identity theft set back US residents $24.7 billion, $10 billion more than home burglaries, car theft and other property theft combined.
Okay, identity theft and cyber theft are not necessarily one in the same. However, according to an Identity Theft Assistance Center survey, 21.6% of identity theft crimes are computer-related. We are still talking billions of dollars in losses each year, and millions of victims.
But Surely Technology is More Secure Nowadays, Right?
Unfortunately, as technology gets smarter, so do hackers. Hundreds of people using iOS devices in Australia, New Zealand and Asia, had their iPhones, iPods and iPads hacked. And guess what? It turned out the hackers were able to obtain the login details of iCloud subscribers. We need to come to terms with the fact that cyber criminals are here to stay. Protecting yourself by using unique passwords across your accounts, may be a necessary frustration which will ultimately save you from far worse headaches.
Recycling passwords is like leaving the keys in the front door of your house. What could be more nightmarish than someone hacking into your email, and discovering that you use the same password for all your other accounts?
*Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Everyone has heard by now the story , from May 21, that some time back in February or March EBay servers were breached. At first 145 million souls were asked to change their passwords; then the company announced that it would be forcing them to do so anyway. Following Heartbleed , the Target stores attack, and similar recent stories, breaches by cyber criminals are becoming routine (yawn) but could hurt you financially (eek). After all, the most immediate result of the EBay event was a reduction in the company's stock market shares.
The interesting thing about this event, from a security perspective, is that no financial information was stolen, and that even the stolen passwords were encrypted. But unencrypted customer data, like names, birth dates, mailing address information, were stolen, and in a big way. So we have to ask what value such information might have for criminals. The answer, unfortunately is "lots".
In order to understand why, we have to make certain assumptions. First, that criminal groups are acting together and trading information. Second, that they are thinking holistically, i.e., the more data they have on us, the better for them. We must assume that, like classic intelligence agencies, criminals are painstakingly compiling personal dossiers that they can use for that quintessential 21st century crime of identity theft. It is expressed in stolen email accounts, stolen passports, stolen bank accounts or worse. And it works by using some parts of our information in order to obtain others.
To protect ourselves from this kind of crime, it is best to put ourselves into the mindset of the criminals: To consider what information we reveal online and how this might be useful to someone. For example, if my birthday, the names of my children or pets can be found on Facebook, it might not be such a good idea to use these in my password, or in the "secret" questions that can be used to recover it. If I know that my bank, to verify identity over the phone, routinely asks for certain responses, I might not want to reveal these elsewhere; or I could obfuscate this data - for example by lying about my age in social media profiles.
There's much more to learn, obviously. But taking seriously the advice frequently given by service providers, and then exercising a little common sense, can be an important start.