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The New Target for Security Threats: Your Cell Phone

Tara Swords
Find Under: New Targets

The fastest-growing sector for cellular phones is now the "smart phone" -- so called because it not only acts as a phone but as a storage device for everything from email to photos to your address book. Growth of these wireless mini-computers is expected to be 30% over the next five years, bringing the total of these gadgets in use to 304 million by 2011. Along with the rise in popularity, however, has come a growing assortment of threats from data thieves, spyware, and viruses.

The good news is that you’re not likely to be a major target for hackers unless you’re a celebrity, politician, professional athlete or high-profile person. That doesn't mean the data in your cell phone wouldn't be compromised if it were stolen or lost. Identity theft is on the rise and the unscrupulous may find the keys to stealing the data on your cell phone.

You might not think of your cell phone as a computer, but that’s exactly what it is: a small computer that stores and transmits personal information about you. And just as with a computer, cell phone use has certain security risks. So if you use a cell phone these days, it’s a good idea to follow a few safety rules.

1. Never open attachments from strangers

Nowadays, cell phones are used to transmit typed communication as much as for spoken conversations. Text messages and email messages downloaded to your phone pose the same threat as messages you receive via your computer. So if you get a message from someone you don’t know, don’t open any attachments.

“If a virus comes in as an attachment to an email or is downloaded from the Internet, it could wreak havoc on the consumer’s mobile phone,” says Diana Hwang, research manager at IDC, a technology research group. “Consumers need to take basic steps on how to protect their cell phone, such as not opening any file or attachment you are not familiar with.”

2. Lock down your phone with a password

A far bigger threat to your cell phone than viruses: phone theft or loss. Thieves can often use the data you collect on your phone to perpetrate ID theft or pry into your personal business.

“If you text message and retain a log and if you put email on your phone -- these are two things that can collect an awful lot of information about what it is you do and what you think of others,” says Rob Enderle, principal analyst of technology advisory firm the Enderle Group. “Some people even use phones to save account passwords and IDs.”

If your phone has password-protect capability that will lock the keypad, use it. Make your phone password is difficult to guess -- not your birthday, address, or a portion of your phone number. If your phone doesn’t let you set a password, just don’t store any sensitive information on it.

3. Keep your number private

To cut down on the likelihood that a virus or other malicious code will be sent to your phone, give out your number and email address only to people you know and trust. In most cases in the U.S., it’s illegal for telemarketers to use automated dialers to call cell phones. But you can add your cell phone number to the government-run “Do Not Call” registry at #IF($EnableExternalLinks)donotcall.g#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTov#ENDIF for an extra measure of security.

4. Use a PIN for voicemail.

If you don’t want anyone but you to hear your voice mail messages, set your account to require a password or PIN every time you call voice mail. That will protect your privacy in the event that someone finds or steals your phone.

5. Understand your risks at hotspots

More phones today feature Wi-Fi capability, which is the same protocol you use for your high-speed wireless connection on your home computer. That means those phones can connect to unsecured hot spots to check email and surf the web.

“Hot spots may not be legitimate hot spots and someone can seize any information that you’re passing through them,” Enderle says. Your best bet: Don’t connect to hot spots with your Wi-Fi enabled phone unless you know they’re secure.

6. Wipe it before you toss it

If you decide to give away your old phone, make sure you erase all important data first. At #IF($EnableExternalLinks)WirelessRecycling.c#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTom#ELSEWireless Recycling#ENDIF, you can find a phone data eraser that provides step-by-step instructions for how to erase your exact make and model of phone.

7. Keep it down

If you make important calls while on the go -- calling the bank to see whether a check has cleared, for example -- don’t forget the most obvious security measure: Keep your voice down when you’re saying things you don’t want others to hear.

“You do need to be aware that you are saying things verbally and the people around you can hear you,” Enderle says. “If you don’t want a lot of people to know that somebody’s getting a divorce or having a baby -- or your company’s secret plans -- think about where you are” before you speak, he says.

Copyright (c) Studio One Networks. All rights reserved.

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