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Think your smartphone’s safe? Here’s how to be sure

Creepy phone man

The smartphone has evolved from a device owned by the few to an essential item owned by the many. Emails, movies, news, social media – everything we could possibly want is right there on that lovely screen and within it there are apps and apps and apps that can do everything except make you coffee in the morning.

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So how do you know if your smartphone has been hacked? How do you know if money is being systematically taken from your bank account? Or that your smartphone is slowly being transformed from a useful tool to a nasty piece of work best driven over by your new 4×4?

If you have suddenly started getting larger than usual phone bills or find that your calls are dropping more regularly, then your phone may very well have been hacked. Other signs include the high usage of your data (because it is being moved from your device to a third party), your battery life dropping dramatically and strange performance issues caused by lack of phone memory or storage space. In short, if your phone is suddenly acting like it has stepped out of the film Ghostbusters then you could have a problem.

Mobile security today is too often overlooked. People just aren’t that concerned about it and yet 90% of vulnerabilities common on desktops can be found on both Android and iOS systems. Ethical hackers have used penetration testing to uncover these vulnerabilities lurking in the mobile operating systems most commonly used today, and 87.5% of mobile applications tested had one or more flaws that allowed for the transmission of sensitive data. And by sensitive data, I mean your bank details, your personal photographs and other such private information. Another troubling statistic: 92% of Android free apps and 100% of iOS free apps send out your data unencrypted and there isn’t any way that users can tell if the apps on their phone have this issue, unless they run iOS of course.

You would think hackers would aim for the big and the rich, and they do, but if given a choice between the easy pickings of your unprotected device or the hardcore security systems of a large multinational corporation, they would choose yours — the least challenging, the lowest hanging fruit. In 2012, malware for Android devices increased 400% to more than 200 000 samples and these consisted of backdoors, SMS Trojans and spyware. Spyware made up 51% of all new Android malware. Hackers employ three preferred attack vectors which include insufficient cache controls, replay attacks and code injection. These may sound like the start of a medical malpractice suit, but it’s what someone could be doing to your device right now.

So, how can you keep your smartphone safe? First, update your operating system. Statistics show that 90% of Android users haven’t updated their systems so don’t be one of them. Second, make sure your cell phone stays with you. Seven thousand users left their devices at seven airports over the period of 12 months. South Africans are fortunately more paranoid than most when it comes to eyeballing their goods, but make sure your jetlag doesn’t result in a phone hack. 46% of people allow others to borrow their devices, 37% haven’t activated auto-lock and 48% have logged onto an unsecured wireless network.

Additional tips to keep your phone secure — don’t save passwords, lock your screen, don’t jailbreak your phone, only use apps from trusted sources and stores, install anti-malware, and update your operating system.

If you’re guilty of some or all of these mistakes, don’t beat yourself up too much. Judging by the stats, you are not alone. Fortunately, after reading this piece, you will be a bit more vigilant, although do allow Aunt Bess to use your phone, I doubt she’s a hacker in disguise.

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