As I prep for Mobile World Congress, I’ve done some reflecting on my very first cell phone. Whether it was my very first, a Motorola flip phone, then Nokia’s indestructible brick phone, followed by the first-gen iPhone, one thing is certain today: what lives in the palm of my hand has advanced light-years beyond its first model. As soon as Blackberry made handheld personal assistants the norm, mobile security measures needed to improve, and quickly. Suddenly, the whole world was keeping personal information on a single, internet-connected device.
As the trust in our devices grew, so did the interest in hacking them. The first malware targeting mobile phones was discovered in 2004 when the Cabir strain infected Nokia devices via unsecured Bluetooth connections. Before the attack, malware was thought of as a threat to computers alone. A new era in cybersecurity was underway, and the cat-and-mouse game between mobile hackers and security pros was on.
Today’s mobile devices come equipped with features we likely could not have imagined just ten years ago, and now are incredibly powerful computing devices. Cybercriminals are getting more creative with their attacks, developing complex viruses that are difficult to identify and wipe out. As a response to the arms race between cybersecurity defense and attackers, new security tactics have been enlisted, such as geolocation tracking. However, if these measures are compromised in any way, it makes it easier for hackers to access personal accounts.
Follow these steps to help protect your mobile device against today’s ever-changing threats:
- Geolocation: Geolocation is used to report your location to your applications and to associate you with real-world locations. Your phone encourages geolocation, as it allows apps to quickly determine your location in order to provide services directed toward you. However, it’s important to think critically about leaving these permissions on at all times, as it can allow hackers to uncover your whereabouts and understand your movement patterns. Make sure that the geolocation permissions are activated only for those apps that are required for the app to work as advertised, such as Uber or Lyft, Google Maps, etc.
- Applications: Keeping your phone updated (in all manners) is one of the best ways to make sure you have the latest and greatest security measures protecting your data. Each app is as vulnerable as your operating system and hackers have been able to find and expose holes in popular apps, attacking phones and their data. Make a habit of updating not only your operating system, but also each application on your phone (avoid those ghost apps!), and you’ll have a much simpler time maintaining personal privacy.
- Cameras: Cybercriminals can access the camera on your device to keep an eye on you. Certain “spy apps” can be installed, allowing users to hijack a smartphone’s camera and microphone to track and monitor anyone. These apps cost as little as $8 per month, and can be used by anyone, from hackers to parents or employers. Keep an eye on the apps you do choose to download and make sure that they don’t begin to ask for excessive permissions.
To keep your personal data as safe as possible, watch for suspicious device behavior. You likely know your phone like the back of your hand—it goes everywhere with you and you check it about 150 times a day—so it’s probably obvious when something looks fishy. If you do suspect a malicious app has been installed, remove it, and report the app to the app store you downloaded it from. To prevent an attack, it’s a good idea to run anti-virus software like McAfee Mobile Security (free for both Android and iOS), which helps protect your device and its data.