Smartphone owners represent new IT security threats

Smartphones shipped worldwide have surpassed personal computer shipments for the first time, according to International Data Corporation (IDC) statistics for the last business quarter.

Many of those phones will be used for much more than just making calls.

That’s more people using smartphones to visit websites, manage social media postings, send and receive e-mail and even access important business documents.

That’s also more people risking theft of personal files, identities and financial information simply because they do little to protect their smartphones, said Dan Bowers, a College of Western Idaho computer security instructor with 30 years of experience in the information technology industry.

“Your smartphone is a computer, and you are the weakest link in its security,” Bowers said during a presentation in the ITD Headquarters Auditorium Tuesday.

“We connect (smartphones) to many different networks,” he explained to a full house of ITD employees and a few of his CWI students.

If you connect to a home network and then to an office network with a compromised phone, “It’s like being sick and then bringing that illness to the office,” he said.

Bowers said that smartphone security threats start with the design of mobile phone operating systems that allow programmers quick and easy access to a phone’s software by way of APIs (Application Programming Interface). Broad connectivity to mobile networks and the Internet opens the door to additional threats.

Software scripts, the Short Message Service (SMS) and Multimedia Message Service (MMS) applications that allow texting and sending photographs also are routes that can lead to smartphone security breaches.

Other security threats can involve 3G and 4G networks, Bluetooth, wireless Internet connections, anything USB or infrared based and synchronizing with other networks.

Once compromised, a smartphone can allow hackers access to e-mail and voice mail, the ability to steal valuable information such as contacts or insert malware to spread virus infections, use the smartphone’s Internet history to access bank account information and even spy on a smartphone owner by tracking the phone’s location or activating the phone’s camera remotely.

Bowers offered several tips for improving smartphone security:

  • Make sure the host systems a smartphone sync’s with have the latest antivirus software installed;
  • Make sure the smartphone has the latest antivirus software installed;
  • Only activate Bluetooth when necessary and deactivate it when it is not in use;
  • Do not click on any e-mail link in an in box;
  • Treat all unsolicited e-mail as suspect;
  • Do not download or load untrusted applications, know the application source;
  • Never leave a smartphone unattended; and
  • Protect smartphones with a PIN (Personal Identification Number).

“Hackers have a high interest in stealing your identity” Bowers explained. “Hacking is for profit, and the profits have overtaken those of the drug trade worldwide.

Published 4-8-2011