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Good to know : mobile phone security against identity fraud

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Many of us are ‘In the Dark’ about mobile security with only 54% of mobile device users in the UK able to pass a basic mobile device security test, leaving them at risk of issues such as ID theft. That’s the conclusion of an extensive online study from free online advice site, knowthenet.org.uk, which today launches an interactive test, to educate and help Britons secure their smart devices.

The mobile device is at the centre of our personal and professional lives with more than half of adults owning a smartphone and one in 10 having a tablet. Yet research by knowthenet.org.uk, which surveyed 1,000 smartphone and tablet users, reveals that Britons are making basic mobile device security errors, leaving them vulnerable to ID theft and other forms of cyber fraud.

Fraudsters only need three pieces of information to steal an individual’s identity, trading digital identities in thousands of covert online marketplaces for less than $1 apiece; yet shockingly, 38% of GB adults online with a mobile device keep key personal data such as online banking details (4%) and social media passwords (18%) on their device, and 44% of all smart device users don’t even have a password to protect it. Phones can be compromised when stolen, and cyber-criminals can even intercept data when you’re surfing free Wi-Fi in a coffee shop or airport.

We are putting ourselves at risk:

– 43% don’t have security measures in place such as anti-virus software, remote wipe or the latest operating system, leaving them vulnerable to a wide range of threats

– 21% of 16-24 year olds have been ‘phone jacked’, risking data and ID theft

– 19% would log-on to unencrypted WiFi exposing themselves to sniffing attacks

– 17% have clicked on an unknown link sent to their device, including website links in the devices internet browser (10%), a link in an email (6%), risking malware infection and phishing attacks

We are confused over security:

– 27% aren’t aware that they need to protect their mobile device, 31% don’t know how to and 19% don’t think it’s necessary

– 28% don’t know how to judge whether an application is secure

120,000 smartphones are stolen in the UK each year, which demonstrates the scale of the risk and the need for people to secure their mobile devices.

Phil Kingsland, Site Director at knowthenet.org.uk, said, “The prevalence of mobile devices is making them a target for cybercrime. The personal and sensitive information stored on the devices, their portable nature and a failure to view them as a target for crime means users in the UK are now vulnerable to device fraud and security lapses. That’s why we have launched a free online test on our Internet advice site, knowthenet.org.uk, which will put participants through a number of scenarios, designed to stop people being in the dark about mobile security.”

A focus group led by professional ‘white hat hacker’ and security consultant for knowthenet.org.uk, Peter Wood, highlighted the issue. Only half of the group had password protection on their smart device, yet when discussing the storage of sensitive information, one participant said “I’ve got my pin code (credit card) in the notes on my phone”. After it was highlighted how little information is needed to defraud an individual and how often this information is stored on a smart device, one participant reflected the general mood, saying, “I thought people stole phones for the phone, not for information.”

Later in the session, the security expert demonstrated how easy it is to view an individual’s browsing activity when connected to an unencrypted WiFi network – allowing malicious users to steal information even without direct contact with your phone. After showing participants the personal information obtained by viewing their net activity, one participant said she was “shocked at the information that can be seen” while another said “I won’t be using unencrypted WiFi anywhere”.

After participants discussed the security of smart devices, one participant said “I’m probably not as aware or as cautious about it as I should be really. I logon, do my stuff and that’s it. I don’t really think about anything else.” Another said “I think I’m going to be finding an App which remotely wipes data as soon as my phone gets stolen”.

Peter Wood, CEO of First Base Technologies and knowthenet.org.uk security expert said “The research shows there’s low understanding of smartphone and tablet security and that people are complacent when it comes to protecting and securing their devices. This mindset needs to change as criminals now see mobile devices as a valuable target. As a result, we have put together some top tips to help people make their mobile device more secure”.

Top tips:

– Don’t leave important data on your smartphone or tablet

– Don’t do financial transactions or enter passwords on public WiFi

– Set-up remote wipe and device location capabilities

– Download an antivirus app for your phone and check your phone is running the latest version of the operating system

– Create a strong password (long but memorable) and set your screen lock at a five minute, or less, timeout

– When downloading an app, check the author’s web site and other users’ comments and be mindful of what data and services you’re allowing it access to

Knowthenet.org.ukhas launched a free online test – similar to the one used in the research – which lets consumers test their understanding of mobile device security. It is accessible at www.knowthenet.org.uk/inthedark with further articles on how to stay safe on the Internet accessible at knowthenet.org.uk.