Dial 'S' for cell phone security - Word&Way

Dial ‘S’ for cell phone security

As a movie lover, I find it interesting to see how automobiles, clothes and hairstyles quickly date a movie.

Even more interesting is the role of technology. Without cell phones, characters have to stop to find a payphone, can’t pull up the Internet or a GPS map and don’t text.

Ken Satterfield

A World Bank study reported that at the end of 2011, about 6 billion cell-phone subscriptions serve the world’s population of 7 billion, with 5 billion of those in developing countries. More than 30 billion phone applications (apps) were downloaded in the last year alone.

And because of the rapid proliferation of the devices, lawmakers have struggled to keep up. Probably the best examples of the trend are laws banning the use of texting while driving. You will understand why by trying a simulator like itcanwaitsimulator.org. AT&T DriveMode app (tinyurl.com/cpsafety2) notifies callers when you are driving.

As phones become smaller, it is increasingly easier to lose a phone or have it stolen. A McAfee security survey in late 2011 found that mobile users placed the value of photo, music, contacts, social network access, financial and sensitive information on their phones at an average of more than $37,400.

Some are concerned about cell phones because of the affects of cumulative radiation on users. The National Cancer Institute (tinyurl.com/cpsafety1) notes that despite inconsistencies in studies, there is no evidence that cell phones cause cancers.

Phones can also be a lifesaver. If you were in an accident or incapacitated and someone found your phone, who should they call? Listing a contact as ICE — In Case of Emergency — helps others know who to call first.

In addition to texting, radiation and emergency contact, other concerns include:

Spam. Last year, mobile phones received 4.5 billion spam texts in the United States, not including marketing messages. Despite a persistent hoax about a published directory of cell phone numbers, computers generating combinations of cell phone numbers can send spam across carriers.

Avoid unknown links, and do not reply, even to say, “STOP” (tinyurl.com/cpsafety3). Instead, forward spam to 7726 (SPAM). Ask your phone carrier to delete call details from your cell phone bill, which can be purchased online. The Federal Communication Commission has other guidelines at tinyurl.com/cpsafety4.

Malware. Because smartphones are computers, they are at risk for viruses and other malware that can compromise personal information, especially Android phones, which use an open source code. In 2011, Google admitted that more than 90 percent of Android users were running older versions of operating systems that contain serious vulnerabilities.

Avoid unregulated app sites and research apps before downloading them onto your phone. Be aware of the permissions included in installed apps. Be wary of apps that offer music and other content for free, or that are free versions of paid apps.

Theft. If your phone is stolen, your information can be at risk. Requiring a passcode to access your phone is useful, although annoying. Installing protection software is recommended, ranging from free apps such as avast! Free Mobile Security (tinyurl.com/cpsafety5) and Webroot SecureWeb (tinyurl.com/cpsafety6) to paid versions that run $20-30.

These programs can protect users against malware, spam and install anti-theft protections — such as locking the phone, activating a siren and activating a GPS locator — even when the SIM card is switched.

Other dangers are similar to computers: Anything you send — email, texts and pictures — lasts. Don’t respond to these from a sender you don’t know. Backup your phone data. Protect younger users with guidelines like those established by the National Crime Prevention Council (tinyurl.com/cpsafety7).

It wasn’t that long ago that smartphones — and even cell phones that are not that “smart” — were seen as devices of the future. Keep your information safe and protect privacy by using a combination of good sense and good precautions.

Ken Satterfield is advertising coordinator for Word&Way.