The Risky Holiday Season is Here: Mobile Device Security Basics

Posted on November 25, 2014

airport-384562_640Thanksgiving and Christmas shopping and travel are nearly here ? and that means that data thieves are also moving into high gear, according to the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) and Gartner. In the U.S., Gartner says that an average of 113 mobile phones are lost or stolen every minute, but the NCSA says that the number of stolen phones can double during the holiday shopping season.

A Zogby survey conducted for the NCSA found that 72% of Americans have never installed data protection applications or security software on their smartphones. A Wall Street Journal article adds more troubling statistics. comScore says that 32.5 million Americans were accessing banking information via mobile device back in 2011, with usage projected to increase by over 20% a quarter after that time. Worse, Consumer Reports State of the Net Survey said that by the end of 2013, over 40% of American consumers stored computer or banking passwords on mobile devices. Last, but hardly least the article says more than half of smartphone users don?t even have a password on their smartphone to prevent unauthorized access.

Prat Agarwal, director of business development at secure mobile printing leader Breezy, says that the popularity of mobile devices and the relative ease of stealing them and accessing their data makemobile device security especially important this time of year. "Smartphones and tablets are very attractive targets for petty criminals and sophisticated data thieves alike. Thieves know that business travelers and business employees are just as caught up in the rush, crush and bustle of the holiday season as everyone else. Stolen smartphones and iPads are a year-round problem for business, but they are especially risky during the holiday season when employees may be more rushed, more stressed, and less attentive,? Agarwal says.

Holiday Safety for Mobile Users

Shoppers_around_Mall_Christmas_TreeThe National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), a not-for-profit funded by credit card companies to help people with debt problems, including those caused by identity theft, avoid bankruptcy offers these tips on keeping mobile devices and the valuable information they contain safe during holiday shopping, travel, and events. While shoppers are focused on gift-giving during the holidays, crooks are focused on taking.

The first rule of mobile device security is not to put your phone in an outside pocket where it can easily be snatched by someone who appears to accidentally bump into you. Men should use the inside pocket of a jacket or coat, and women should keep the phone in an inside pocket of a closed purse carried close to the side or in front of you. Tablets should be in an inside, closed pocket of a briefcase or purse. If you're using your phone or tablet while you're in a public place, don't set it down on a counter or table where it can be snatched while you're pre-occupied with something else.

"Also, if you allow your children to play with or use your electronic devices, watch them closely to make sure they aren't leaving them where a thief can snatch the device away from little hands."

Second, don?t carry mobile devices you don?t need while you are shopping, and don?t leave laptops or tablet computers in your car while you?re at a holiday party or while shopping. If you must leave a work laptop or tablet in the car while shopping or attending an event, make sure that it isn?t visible from outside the car. ?Thieves know what a laptop bag looks like, and they know a backpack is likely to be filled with things someone wants to keep close to them,? Agarwal says. ?If your car has under seat storage, as many SUVs and cross-over vehicles do, use that if you don?t have a trunk.?

If you?re among the millions of shoppers who use your smartphone to scan bar codes, redeem digital coupons, or compare pricing before you buy, then Norton advises a few in-store precautions.

Norton cites a new holiday scam that involves location-based phishing attacks that target people seen using smartphones in a retail store. The criminal mimic location-based apps that offer shoppers deals, promotions, and 2-for-1ers. Mobile phishing attacks of this type are more frequent than anyone might think, and this presents a challenge simply because it is generally more difficult to spot a phishing site on a mobile device. Other holiday scams Norton warns about include fraudulent donation sites that spoof holiday charities, bogus fraud alerts asking you to approve a purchase the thief just saw you make, and requiring you to click on a link in a text message or email that asks for your credit card details.

Strong Passwords Protect Personal Information

One area that many mobile device users overlook is the importance of protecting their smartphones, tablets and laptops with strong passwords. ?Use the strongest passcode protection available to lock your phone,? Agarwal says. ?A four-digit PIN can be cracked relatively easily ? there are just 10,000 possible combinations available for the digits 0-9, and hackers have tables and predictive models that tell them what PIN numbers are most popular.?

The better your password, the less likely it is that your personal or financial information and personal data will be compromised by a hacker. The best passwords are (a) long (b) complex, with 3 or 4 different types of characters (capital and lowercase letters, with numbers and symbols) and (c) made up of words or phrases not found in a standard dictionary. ?If you can, have multiple layers of passwords on your mobile devices ? one to unlock the keypad, and a separate, complex, password for applications like email, documents, and other files that contain important personal or company information. Many mobile apps and Cloud-based services allow have a password that is at least 8 characters in length ? but longer passwords are better. Some security experts recommend passwords of 16-24 characters in length. Use the longest, most complex password you can, and never store unencrypted passwords in your mobile device.?

Even if you keep your smartphone or tablet firmly in your own grasp, the holiday season is a time to get smart about Wi-Fi hotspots. ?Public Wi-Fi may be fine for a quick web search, but it?s no place to check your bank balance or pay a credit card bill,? Agarwal says. ?Be careful about connecting to unknown Wi-Fi hubs while you?re out shopping ? you don?t know who?s monitoring it, or intercepting the information you send.?

On-Device Encryption: The Safest Data

The best way to protect your business and personal information is to make sure your files are encrypted, whether they are at rest on your tablet or smartphone, or in transit to a printer or Cloud-based or Web-based host, Agarwal says. ?Breezy encrypts every bit of data we handle in our secure mobile printing application, so even if a thief gets access to the data or the device, they can?t access the underlying data. Data that isn?t encrypted on the mobile device where it is stored is subject to man-in-the-middle attacks when it is in transit between the mobile device and the printer or another device. It?s the best way to protect valuable information.?

For more information on secure mobile printing, watch this video from Breezy, download The Definitive Guide to Mobile Printing, a free ebook, or click here to schedule a demo now.

 

Photo credit: The photo of the crowded airport terminal was offered on Pixabay by an anonymous photographer under Pixabay's Creative Commons License. Indian Photographer Niyam Bhushan offered this photo of smartphone-carrying shoppers around a mall Christmas tree on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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