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Smartphone Security Today

How safe is your smartphone? Chances are that it’s not as secure as you think it is. Here’s an illustration: You’re entering the freeway on your way home from work when you see that all four lanes resemble a parking lot –there is definitely something going on but you can’t see far enough to identify the problem. You pick up your phone to check the online traffic report but the screen is occupied by a request for permission to install some new program. You pass it off as a typical update and it looks no more malicious than the last twenty programs you allowed to install. You hit “Accept” and never realize that you just gave permission for some malware to send your data and text it to the perpetrator’s phone.

Your personal information is now accessible to a criminal and you don’t realize it because you were used to granting such permissions and you were too busy trying to focus on the immediate problem to be careful. This scenario could just as easily have included clicking on a suspicious attachment or visiting a phishing website. A big part of the problem with smartphone security is that most of us don’t think of it as a computer; we see it as a really cool phone.

The two examples of granting permission and opening a suspicious attachment are understandable but largely avoidable if we just pay attention. There is an inherent problem with web-surfing and searching on a smartphone, however. When I use my laptop computer, the screen is large enough to display information that assures the website I’m about to enter or have already entered is secure.

First, before I actually enter any private information, I should look for the little padlock in the address bar. I should also see that it is an “https”, rather than an “http” URL protocol. The “s” stands for secure and means it is encrypted. Second, most antivirus software will tell you the website is secure or safe before you click on it –of course, this indication is only as good as the virus and other definitions your provider uses.

Last, you can really rest assured that a website is safe if you find a valid security seal displayed on the site itself. These things are simple enough to find on a computer but the smaller smartphone screen doesn’t show everything a computer does. Remember, every website owner has the choice of optimizing the website for smartphone use, creating a separate website specifically made for smartphones and tablets or to leave things as they are and hope for the best. With the first two options, the owner will decide what to include on the website but with the third, your phone might exclude information based on a set of protocols or priorities. In most cases, the padlock and the “s” are not visible on smartphones –that can be a real problem, since the other indicators are elective.

The next time you use your smartphone to go online, to check email or to grant a permission, remember it is not just a cool phone with a variety of toys to play with; it is a lot more like a computer. In some ways it’s like a self-destructing computer with a hairpin trigger and no safety to engage. Keep that in mind, and you’re likely to be safe.


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