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IT Trends: Mobile security

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Most of us who have access to the internet also have smartphones which are often the immediate device of choice that we use to access our emails and social networks. They can be used whilst travelling, when in a traffic queue, and even in bed.

Whether this is a healthy way to communicate is another issue, and I have written about some of the major disadvantages of this behaviour in previous columns. But we need to accept that this is fast becoming the norm – especially with the younger generation.

Ensuing that we access to the internet via these devices in a secure way is essential. Whilst there have only thus far been a few cases of mobile viruses, this is likely to increase exponentially, especially with the advent of mobile money and internet banking functionality offered on mobiles. Criminals are now targeting such usage, especially via phone to phone infections – as it is now a lucrative target for them.

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How can we ensure that we are safe from such attacks on a daily basis? It pays to check on the following points. First and foremost, be aware that thus far there are no reported phone to phone virus auto instals. The user must carry out an action to allow the virus to instal. This usually takes the form of clicking on an attachment purportedly sent by a friend via MMS, Skype or Bluetooth.

Opening the message itself is not dangerous. But always verify with the sender if required, before clicking on an unsolicited attachment. I choose usually to delete these immediately, and send the user a message asking them to confirm – and if necessary re-send the attachment. Even though I had the misfortune of being infected last year with a virus that attacked my Skype account and sent messages to everyone in my address book.

Getting rid of it was a nightmare. It appeared in the form of an invoice sent by one of my existing suppliers – which in itself seemed innocent enough. I did not wonder why they had started sending invoices by Skype rather than email?

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So, if in doubt, do not click before verifying.Ensure your phones operating system is as up to date as possible. Most smartphones allow the option of automatically updating. Once a responsible phone manufacturer identifies malware targeting their phones, they rush to provide a patch to protect all phones as soon as possible. It also pays to download and use one of the free mobile anti-virus packages available online.

Kaspersky even offers an ad in with their corporate solution packages to protect company users who seek to access the company network. Once downloaded, keep them up to date and scan regularly, especially if you are in the habit of downloading apps and files onto your mobile. Avoid keeping your Bluetooth on by default. Apart from saving on your battery power, this is a widely used way of accessing mobile phones illegally.

Likewise – be careful of using free wireless networks in public places. Whilst not many of them exist in Malawi yet, travelling users who utilise these in cafes and airports have been compromised.

Finally, ensure that your smartphone is protected with a strong secure password – and if your sim card allows this, do the same here. I am amazed at the number of friend’s smartphones that they have left behind – that when switched on – give full access to their social networks, email accounts and online accounts, as they are permanently logged in!

Think very hard on what information that is on your phone that you are prepared to share with a total stranger, if the phone is stolen or misplaced. The more you use your mobile phone on a daily basis, the more vulnerable you become to malicious use of your personal data.

Take the right steps now to make sure you are not another victim.

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