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Smartphones a new target for hackers

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Smartphones are increasingly becoming the target of hackers and the like. Users often fail to understand that their smartphones are just as susceptible to malware and hackers as their standard PCs. It is for this reason that the Comztek security and storage channel managers believe that users need to take more care when opening text and multimedia messages. They also believe users also need to watch out when they are using a wireless connection such as Bluetooth.

Smartphones have really come to live up to their name in recent times. With their Facebook, Twitter and other social networking applications, not to mention the now standard web browser and email access and their many other networking capabilities, smartphones are viewed by many as an extension of their personal computer.

Even though these devices are being regarded as computers by even the least tech savvy of mobile phone users, it is amazing how securing their devices is still a non issue for most smartphone users.

What people do not realise is that their smartphones are just as susceptible to malware and malicious attacks as computers are. Phones are no longer just devices for making and receiving calls or sending and receiving text messages from friends and family. They are now high capacity storage devices used to store and transmit important personal and business related data.

The mine field

The first line of defence for electronic devices that are susceptible to hacking is password protection, and many come with a default password already set. Failing to change the default password on devices such as smartphones puts users at risk from viruses such as the Ikee virus, which hit iPhones at the end of 2009 and swapped the wallpapers of infected devices with images of ‚80s rock star, Rick Astley. Done only as a prank on this occasion, the virus could have been programmed to be a lot more destructive. It only affected iPhones that still had the default password set and had been modified to install applications not approved by the manufacturer, an act commonly known as jailbreaking.

As desirable as it may be within tech circles, jailbreaking is another pitfall that users need to be aware of. Hackers often target such modified devices because jailbreaking compromises the default security on the device. If successful, the hacker may gain access to and do what they please with all the data saved on a smartphone, including e-mail, contacts, text messages, calendar entries, photos, music and videos.

However, danger does not always come in the form of a computer wiz turned hacker, actively spreading malware. Users also fall victim through their own negligence. When using their smartphone in conjunction with other Bluetooth enabled devices, such as car kits and earpieces, users unwittingly expose themselves to data loss buy leaving their Bluetooth setting on even when they are no longer using it. Bluetooth provides an easy way in for anyone, including hackers, to any device that is not protected.

Playing it safe

Apart from setting strong passwords and turning their Bluetooth off when not in use, users can get dedicated security suites for their mobile phones, and these are available from several leading vendors. Unfortunately users are not often advised about these security products when purchasing their smartphones from retailers, and on the rare occasion that advice is offered, it is generally simply ignored.

SIM card backup devices are also just as overlooked by users. When someone loses their phone, the value of the lost phone is generally the first thing that crosses their mind but this is soon followed by the despair of losing all the often irreplaceable information that was stored on the phone. SIM card backup devices offer users a relatively affordable, easy-to-use means of backing up all the information contained on a SIM card, and this can be done either to the backup device’s own on board memory or to the user’s computer.

Users also need to be wary of suspicious looking content sent to them in text and multimedia messages. In the same way they would simply delete an email they do not trust, they need to be just as careful when receiving content to their mobile phones.

A light at the end of the tunnel

It is not all doom and gloom though for smartphone and general mobile phone users in South Africa. The Regulation of Interception of Communication Act (RICA), which came into effect a few months ago, offers some reprieve to users, as it will make it possible to trace the origins of content, including malicious content and phishing messages, and help in the prosecution of the offenders. The Act might seem like an invasion of privacy to some, but in the long run it will not only help the police in catching criminals who use mobile phones in their criminal activities but will also shield users from receiving unsolicited content on their mobiles.

Adrian Hollier Hilbert Long Andre Smit

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