Identity theft is a growing threat to our personal financial security, especially as personal digital devices have become ubiquitous in our society. Most consumers are familiar with threats against their PCs and laptops, and have taken steps to protect their computers. But smartphones are the newest targets for cybercriminals, and many people are unaware of the threat to their personal information via this most personal of devices.
Why Are Smartphones Being Targeted?
Smartphones store a huge amount of personal information, including banking information, credit card numbers, and passwords for the many accounts we access regularly on our phones. Recently it has even become possible to pay for things with only a smartphone, making it almost equal to a wallet in monetary significance. While this is extremely convenient, it has also made the phone an all-access target for cybercriminals.
Most smartphone users do not utilize anti-malware protection or other security measures. In a 2014 survey by Consumer Reports, only 14% of Americans had any kind of anti-virus app on their phones. In addition, many smartphone users are not aware of how modern malware operates and your phone may be running malware without you noticing any difference in the way the device works.
How Is the Information Being Accessed?
There are many ways cybercriminals can obtain personal information from a smartphone. Downloading an app with malware inserted into the code is one of the most common ways hackers can access a smartphone. Once the malware is working on your device, it can record your contact lists, passwords, and frequently visited websites, and relay them to an outside party. Malware can also monitor your emails and text messages to obtain private information.
Phishing scams are also much easier to fall prey to using a smartphone. Due to the small screen size and the frequency that a “mobile site” will look different from the desktop version, it can be tough to make sure a website is authentic. Cyber criminals can construct a fake website which prompts users to enter passwords or account numbers, and to which users are directed via a URL in an email or text message. This mimics the widely used two-factor authentication system, which helps online users protect their accounts.
What Can Users Do To Protect Themselves?
Some smartphone users are savvy enough to employ basic security measures: setting the phone to lock when not in use, erasing data if an incorrect password is entered too many times, or enabling GPS location. However, these actions will only protect the phone if it’s lost or stolen. Modern thieves can steal from your phone without it ever leaving your possession.
The most important measure to take is to install an antivirus app from a reputable source. This is vital if your phone uses the Android OS, which is the most-hacked platform. Avast and 360 Security have both been ranked consistently high for free Android security apps. Research and read the reviews of any app before you download; this will reduce the risk of hidden malware. Avoid downloading apps from third-party sites, even if they are cheaper.