In simpler times, a mobile phone did what it said on the tin: make calls without being hooked up to a cable – if you were lucky enough to get a good signal. The modern mobile phone, however, is a multidimensional communication device that has entirely revolutionised how we interact with our friends, families and colleagues.
Entire businesses can be operated from a small, fragile, handheld piece of technology that can capture video, record sound, send important emails and messages, detect your exact location and help you to navigate traffic. Your mobile device enables you to instantly access news and information, play music, send invoices, update your calendar, do your banking, shopping, and…oh yes, you can also make phone calls.
We often have a judgemental glance for people who treat their phone as an extension of themselves, but for many of us, our lives – or at least crucial personal and business related components – are digitally stored within these devices. It’s important to note that the evolution of mobile phones and their integration into our everyday lives has not taken very long at all. Technology has improved so rapidly that individuals and businesses have not had the time to process the implications of what poor device management can cause.
Many businesses now operate on cloud-based applications that are often mobile friendly. If the nature of your business requires employees to perform tasks using mobile devices, your organisation's intellectual property and sensitive data are more often than not, in someone’s back pocket, handbag, vehicle or haphazardly sitting on a public coffee table.
Our mobile phones monitor, store and use so much of our personal and work-related data; so, without getting too Orwellian, how can we be sure that our smartphones are protected?
Let's start by identifying the most likely threats and vulnerabilities:
- User negligence: The owner of the device forgets or loses the device.
- Malicious software: Like desktops, mobile devices are open to cyber attacks. Malware can find its way into your device through email attachments or links and give hackers remote control access to the smartphone. This also means that your phone can be hijacked by cybercriminals through spyware that activates visibility of your text messages, GPS location and provides audio access to your phone calls.
- Lack of password protection: Users may select predictable passwords or deactivate the feature for easier access. This makes data far more accessible to criminals, should the device fall into the wrong hands.
- Identity theft: The device could be stolen and potentially have its data extracted. As smartphones are often very customised to the user, they can be employed to manipulate the identity of the device owner to commit offences.
Signs that your phone may be hacked
1. Your battery starts depleting faster than usual
Background applications or malware may be running riot and draining your battery life without you being able to detect this. You may have accidentally downloaded the malware by clicking on a link or trusting an application that wasn’t safe. Make sure to frequently scan your phone for viruses and spyware using a reputable anti-virus application.
2. Your data usage increases inexplicably
Most mobile contracts come with a data limit, and quite often, we tend to use the same amount every month. If you’re suddenly reaching your cap limit or being significantly overcharged, your device could be transmitting data without your awareness. You may have to reset your phone, remove any new and untrustworthy apps or seek technical advice.
3. Slow performance and frequent crashes
If your phone starts freezing, or specific applications start crashing, the device may be overloaded with malware.
4. Unusual use of accounts linked to the device
If someone has gained access to your phone, it means they can now manipulate your personal data, make purchases or read your emails. If you notice any unusual activity on your bank statements or you find that some emails are being marked as open without you viewing them, you may be at risk.
How to prevent a security breach on your mobile phone
1. Only use secure Wi-Fi networks
As tempting as it is to hook up to public Wi-Fi when your data is running low, or you need a faster connection, make sure that you are not opening yourself up to threats. Unsecured networks can view all of your encrypted traffic and redirect you to fake sites that can capture your user details. To minimise the risk, if you must use public Wi-Fi, ensure that you don’t enter any login details when visiting banking or email sites, you can also use a VPN app that will encrypt your smartphone traffic.
2. Keep an eye out for phishing
Always be vigilant and analyse the texts and emails you receive for any signs of fraudulent intention. Don’t click on links that look suspicious, even if they come from friends – they may have been hacked too. Android phones are more vulnerable to malicious apps, so check out the reviews and don’t download anything that doesn’t look legitimate.
3. Password protect your device
Surprisingly, this is often an overlooked feature for many people. Reportedly, 5% of corporate devices and 10% of consumer devices are not password protected – this is a significant number considering the kinds of risks this could pose. Depending on how sophisticated your device is, you may be able to use fingerprint or iris recognition features to unlock your phone. Ensure that your device is always password protected in case it accidentally falls into the wrong hands. Furthermore, you should also use a SIM card lock to prevent someone from removing the SIM and using it in another phone.
4. Use encryption software for sensitive data
Folders and files can be encrypted on mobile devices just as they can be on desktops. Do your research and choose the best option for your needs.
5. Turn your Bluetooth off when not in use
Hackers may be searching for nearby devices to remotely access. Decline any offers to pair with devices that you don’t recognise.
6. Browse wisely
Pop-up messages on phones can be a little bit sneaky, and sometimes our fingers move quickly to swipe something away or skip an ad. This could result in accidentally clicking on something that will take you to an unsecured location. Don’t visit websites that have questionable URLs. Check that the ‘HTTP’ has an S at the end to make sure it’s safe.
7. Protect your privacy
88% of Facebook users log in via a mobile device, happily announcing their whereabouts, either through status updates or by permitting geotagging – this is relevant for other social media sites, too. Be discreet with the personal information you impart on social media and deactivate any features which could help cyber criminals track your location.
8. Update your device
This is particularly important for Android users – only 20% of Android users were running the latest system in 2018. Operating old systems mean that attackers have a much easier way into your mobile phone as they’ve had a lot of time to crack through the weak spots. Don’t delay your updates.
How frequently is mobile phone security compromised?
Recent reports indicate that mobile malware is gaining momentum – there has been a 54% increase in the number of new mobile malware viruses. Even more concerning is the rising number of applications that pose a severe threat to the privacy and safety of users who are not aware of the dangers. Apps of this nature are referred to as “grayware”.
A 2018 report by Symantec states that there was an average of 24,000 malicious mobile apps blocked each day. These leaky apps are after details such as your phone number (63%) and your device’s location (37%).
Mobile phone hacking doesn’t only happen to celebrities and politicians. As we become more reliant on technology and personal mobile devices to navigate every aspect of our lives, cybercriminals will continue to look for loopholes to exploit individuals who don’t take the necessary safety measures.
Like every other technology we integrate into our daily lives, there should always be an element of precaution and time invested in educating yourself on the steps you can take to make sure that your device acts as a supportive accessory to your personal and working life.
How can we help?
We offer a range of Cyber Security Management Services including Device Control. Asset management and device encryption is critical to protecting your data, especially with roaming users.
Get in touch to find out more.