Mobile Devices and Mobile Data Security

Tips to protect personal information in a connected world

By Patrick Nelson, Smart City‘s Operations Manager at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center

Nearly a decade ago the concept of mobile security was simply about securing the device itself from potential loss or theft. But as mobile technology becomes more integrated into everyday life, the parameters of mobile security has expanded to face concerns of security breaches, rogue cellphone towers, wireless hacking and more. Currently there is no guaranteed way to protect mobile devices from all the potential security risk exposures. However, there are a few basic things device users can do to reduce risk and protect themselves.

  • Bluetooth. Bluejacking, bluesnarfing and bluebugging are Bluetooth specific security problems ranging from harmless spam messaging to serious intrusion of privacy. Most mobile devices automatically stop broadcasting its Bluetooth access signal after a brief period of time to reduce the window of vulnerability and battery use. However, the best way to prevent unauthorized access through Bluetooth is to simply turn off the feature when not in use.
  • WiFi. WiFi is the most common method of accessing another user’s device and the most overlooked. When a device is connected to a public unsecured network it can be vulnerable to potential nearby hackers sharing the network and from the global Internet as well. By shutting off WiFi, the security risk on a mobile device is reduced by 80% or more.
  • Encrypted portable wireless hotspot. Many mobile devices can be converted into a portable wireless hotspot. Enabling WiFi Protect Access 2 (WPA2) encryption on the broadcasting device reduces the risk of unauthorized access on the network, the broadcasting device, and any others using the network.
  • Create a complex password. Creating a strong password is the initial barrier to prevent intruders from gaining access to a device’s data if it is lost or stolen. Secure passwords are not easy to guess, long in length and randomized with letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid weak passwords like, 123456, password, and admin1.
  • Maintain a clean screen. A complex password may not be enough if a mobile device is in someone else’s hand. Potential intruders may be able to figure out the password by looking at the fingerprints or unique smudges on the device’s face or keyboard. A simple wipe with a clean, dry, lint free cloth will remove obvious finger prints.
  • Browse smartly. Even though mobile devices are not built on computer operating system like Windows, it is still vulnerable to malicious websites. The best method is to avoid questionable webpages and links altogether. If a webpage is not safe to browse at home it will not be safe on a mobile device.
  • Use antivirus software. Many smart phones, tablets, and handheld video game systems are programmed to act like miniature computers with the capability to surf the Internet. Just because the device isn’t labeled as a computer it can still contain sensitive information attractive to hackers. Installing and using antivirus software provides an additional layer of protection from malicious websites on the Internet.
  • Find my Device. GPS is not just a tool to find the location to a new restaurant or the nearest hardware store. Applications utilizing GPS can assist in locating misplaced or stolen devices as well as the recovery process.
  • Remote Lock and Wipe. Should the unfortunate event occur where a device is unrecoverable applications like “Find my (device)” or security services like “Lookout” can remotely lock a device and ultimately wipe out stored personal information as a last resort to prevent prying eyes.

Mobile device security is no longer just about securing the physical item. Phones, tablets, handheld gaming systems, smart watches, and cameras are capable of storing vast amount of sensitive personal and professional information. There is no guarantee way to prevent every method of unauthorized access but individuals can take steps to reduce exposure and mitigate the chances of being a target.

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