Mobile phone security Smartphone security
The issue of smartphone security has been growing in urgency over the last few years. Because of the rapid growth of the smartphone market, many new users have not been made aware of the potential risks the devices pose.
Want to know what a smartphone is? Read our essential guide to smartphones.
How is my smartphone's security at risk?
Many people are careful to dispose of any paperwork that can give away personal information to fraudsters, but your smartphone probably contains just as much sensitive data as anything you keep in a file at home.
Smartphones can be used to access your email accounts, and any information inside them, your social networks, what you search for on the internet, as well as the websites you visit.
If you use popular travel applications such as Google Maps, or Ovi Maps, fraudsters could see what locations you've visited and perhaps figure out where you live.
This vast amount of personal information can potentially be retrieved either by malware (malicious software), or by the theft of your handset.
Another growing risk to smartphones is 'silent activation'. This is where malware gets onto your phone and calls premium numbers set up by a hacker. These calls can rack up huge bills without your knowledge.
Which smartphones are most at risk?
Each type of smartphone operating system has its own separate risks when it comes to hackers or malicious software. The iPhone, for example, has a 'sandbox' configuration, which stops applications communicating with the phone, theoretically making the OS more secure. But recent advances in multitasking technology mean the iPhone may be more at risk than previously thought.
Android phones are more closely related to PC operating system structures and therefore potentially provide a relatively easy target for hackers.
One of the biggest problems for the Android operating system is that its apps market is built on an open model, with very few quality controls, making it easier for malicious apps to find their way onto your phone.
BlackBerry devices are thought to be more secure than others, as they employ encryption software to protect data - one of the reasons they are so popular amongst business users.
But if you smartphone is simply stolen then all the data on that phone can be potentially accessed.
How can I keep my smartphone safe?
Downloaded apps are the easiest route into your phone for hackers. By only buying from the dedicated app stores, and not 'jailbreaking', or opening up your phone for non-regulated software, you're already taking the first step toward keeping your phone safe.
A sizable majority of malware found on phones currently comes from pirated software, due to hackers taking a popular app, adding their own malicious code and distributing it for free. So make sure you look for the official versions.
Often when you download an app and open it for the first time it will display a permissions screen where you can confirm which functions of the phone the app gets access to. While lots of apps need access to things like location, areas like sending SMS messages shouldn't always be needed and can be exploited to rack up big bills using premium rate numbers. Always check what areas of your phone you are allowing an app to access.
Update your smartphone's OS as often as you can, as these usually update the in-built security of your phone. Even if you have a brand new phone, check with your operator to see if there is a system update.
Turn off your wi-fi and Bluetooth functionality when you're not using them, as these are two possible routes into your phone.
There are some mobile anti-virus packages out there. PhoneGuard Mobile Security is one specially designed for mobile devices and covers most of the major operating systems. Given the relative youth of smartphone hacking, there is little evidence as yet to say if these security programs work well enough to warrant the purchase price. But if you're the cautious type they can be found for around £30.
In addition, there are a number of phone loss apps that will delete any sensitive information you have on your phone if it is lost or stolen, minimising the risk of data theft.
Our guide to the Android Market also includes some helpful tips for avoiding malicious apps.