Do You Fall Into The ‘Smart Phone, Dumb User’ Category?

hands-coffee-smartphone-technologyThe scene is dinner with close friends, a couple about to go on a long-planned voyage to Australia and New Zealand. It’s New Jersey, a great night and a wonderful restaurant, but we’re talking “tech.” My friends are afraid of accessing their email, bank accounts and credit card sites while traveling so far from home.

The question is how do they either disconnect for more than three weeks or connect securely enough to manage their lives from so far away. Do they buy a tablet? Do they rely on their phones? What can they do to be safe but stay connected? And then, we discuss smart phone security!

It’s hard not be incredulous! First! Australia? New Zealand? We’re not talking about Romania, Pakistan or Upper Slobbovia. These are places so close to us in Internet and cell phone usage, Internet broadband, and digital sophistication that being there is like being here, in New Jersey.

So I asked my friends over dinner, what about using your cell phone and taking a cheap tablet as a backup and for general Internet access? Their immediate response centered on “security” concerns. I noted the concerns in Australia and New Zealand are the same as here, so like here, just be sensible and careful. Use your smart phone smartly.

And then I asked the critical questions, “Is your smart phone password protected? . . . answer, NO! Do you backup your data? . . . answer, I don’t know! Does your phone have a ‘kill’ switch? . . . answer, NO! Do you use security software on your phone? . . . answer, NO! Can you locate your phone if you lose or misplace it . . . answer, NO!”

It’s obvious we all need to review how to use a smart phone smartly and not be a dumb user.

First, the single biggest risk in having and using a smart phone is losing physical possession of the device.

Once it is out of your hands and in the hands of someone either curious or malicious, you and your life are at risk. We store everything from contacts and phone numbers, to pictures of family, addresses, account numbers, personal data, medical information, business information and accounts, and passwords for a lot of our other digital presence. It is a nexus of data in your life that can create havoc if it is lost.

As annoying as it may be, your device needs to be password protected. A simple four digit pin will work. It creates a major hurdle for the casual thief. It also prevents unwanted pocket calls, apps randomly launching, and other accidental events, because the phone will not recognize any input, voice or by touch, until the password or pin is entered. As I told my friends going to Australia, even here in New Jersey a password is a good thing!

Second, another major security weakness in smart phone design is GPS.

The ability for your device to locate itself in a ‘cell’ for digital reception is how the phone operates. It is also, however, a major security vulnerability. Everything you may load onto your phone, from apps that help you find your way like Waze, to Facebook and chat apps, broadcasts your whereabouts.

Think back when you installed Facebook or Waze. Right after pressing ‘Install,’ a screen popped up that told you what functions on your phone it ‘needed’ access to, and on that list was ‘location services.’

For a mapping program like Waze, the need is obvious. It needs to find your location in order to show you a map of where you are and plot a route to your target destination. But, for instance, why do the CVS, Bloomies, Nordstrom, and Sears shopping apps need your location?

The answer is because they follow you. They know where you are. They learn your shopping habits. They see where you go and what places you visit. And then, they serve up to your phone ‘recommendations’ that fit the zip code you’re in and the life style your travels reveal. Many apps that have no need at all still track your movements.



Dr. Robert Schmid
Dr. Robert Schmid
DR. ROBERT Schmid is the Founder of CyberSecure Technologies. His expertise on Internet security includes 9/11 related recovery issues, anti-terrorism issues, corporate and personal internet security. He has a Ph.D. and MBA from New York University, and his initial foray into the world of security was with the CIA.

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