The mobility and technological sophistication of smartphones that makes them so popular also increases their vulnerability. With that in mind, after attempting to familiarize myself with the fundamentals (see the article, In Search of a Smartphone Part One), an understanding of security problems and (hopefully) some of their solutions begins here. Since I don’t yet own a smartphone, this information was obtained exclusively through research. As a result, there will surely be errors and omissions. Any criticism or comments are welcome.
Handle with Care
Small, expensive devices–like smartphones–are the stuff a thief’s dreams are made of, especially when those devices contain a vast amount of personal information. And the frequent public use of phones makes them readily available to thieves so, the first–and most obvious–security step is to be careful when carrying one. Don’t leave it lying around, and carry it securely, just as you would a wallet.
In the first article, Android, iPhone, and Blackberry were the main contenders in the search for the right phone. The choice was then narrowed to Android and iPhone, with Android winning the coin toss. So, the information below is targeted at an Android audience but, hopefully, it will benefit smartphone owners across the board.
You’ll want to set your phone to lock. How that’s done will vary, depending primarily on the OS (Operating System) version. If a password or PIN is used (an option not available on all Android phones), select one that’s easy to remember (you’ll be using it a lot), but difficult for someone else to crack. The screen lock image below is from the security section of the Droid Razr user’s guide (found here).
The first thing to do on a computer is to install, or update existing, security software, but there are conflicting opinions about mobile security. On one hand, according to Chris DiBona, Open Source Programs Manager at Google, “No major cell phone has a ‘virus’ problem in the traditional sense that Windows and some Mac machines have seen.” However, Tim Armstrong, malware researcher for Kaspersky Lab says, “Android malware is growing at an exponential rate…” Either way, any venture into cyberspace involves risk, and security should be a principal concern.
Mobile Security Apps
While several free security apps are available, only two were found to consistently receive positive feedback; Lookout Mobile Security, and AVG Mobile. Whatever you choose, features to look for include antivirus, phone locator, remote wipe, and backup and restore. All of these are available in both Lookout Mobile and AVG, but some may require a paid upgrade, and there may be some Android version limitations. Some of these features, or variations of them, are also built into several phones.
A phone locator is designed to help pinpoint the location of a missing phone. They’re also used to track the whereabouts of phones belonging to someone else (child, spouse, etc.).
Remote Wipe blurs the line between safe handling and internal security, and may require software installation. As the name implies, a remote wipe will clear information from your phone from a distant location. So, if your phone is lost or stolen and you’re unable to retrieve it, at least personal information can be deleted from it.
Despite the claims about the lack of viruses, I can’t help but think that the cyberspace Pandora’s box opened by computers will become a Pandora’s warehouse with the increased use of smartphones. This would be a wonderful time to be wrong. Either way, once I get a phone, the first step will be to beef up security as much as possible, including adding antivirus software.
In the next article, In Search of a Smartphone Part Three, we’ll take a look at carriers and cost.