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Online Safety and Mobile Devices

The trend is clear. Most of us use mobile devices every day to check our email, communicate with friends and family, and stay connected through social media. Looking ahead, the use of these devices is sure to increase. Unfortunately, that means online safety from their use will also become more worrisome, as more users will be at risk for viruses, unwanted access, and the theft of personal information. Read on for information about how to protect yourself when you use your smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device.

The Risks Involved

The first thing to keep in mind is that smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices are computers. In fact, today's smartphones and tablets are more capable than most PCs from a decade or so ago. More and more people use banking, financial trading, money transfer, and even health care apps. As a result, mobile devices store or have access to more personal information than ever before. On top of that, the size of mobile devices makes them easy to misplace or steal, increasing the risk of information theft.

Mobile devices are susceptible to the same sorts of attacks and vulnerabilities that affect PCs. Scammers may send mobile users "phishing" emails to get a user to unwittingly download harmful software or give out personal information. Smartphone users can also be victims of "vishing" (voicemail phishing) and "smishing" (SMS/text message phishing). Some scammers develop malicious apps that download unwanted software to the user's device or allow access to user information. Also, as with PCs, a mobile device can be controlled by an attacker to create a harmful network known as a "botnet."

The Numbers

Statistics, such as the percentage of people who install antivirus or firewall software on their mobile devices, are hard to come by. Nonetheless, it seems apparent that many mobile users do not protect their devices as they do their PCs. According to one recent survey of American smartphone users:

  • 34% do not use a security code or other lock system for their phones
  • Only 14% have some sort of antivirus program installed
  • Only 8% have installed software to remotely delete the data on their phone in case it is stolen or lost
  • Only 7% encrypt their phones

Ways to Protect Yourself

The steps to take to protect yourself when you use a mobile device are largely common sense, and similar to the steps to protect a PC.

  • Antivirus and firewall software - Download and keep up-to-date antivirus and firewall software that's made for your operating system (usually Android, iOS, or Windows Phone). You can search app providers such as Google's Play Store to find this software, and it's a good idea to read user and professional reviews to see if the software is effective.
  • Use a password or code to lock your device - As noted above, many people fail to take this basic precaution. If possible, choose a long, unique code or password.
  • Enable encryption - Encrypting your mobile device will provide another barrier to unwanted intrusion. Android users may be able to encrypt their phones using this guide.
  • Be wary of fake apps - Limit app downloads to trusted sites such as the Play Store, Amazon's Appstore, and Apple's iTunes. These sites have policies in place to reduce the number of fake, harmful apps. Be particularly wary of links to apps sent by email or text message.
  • Limit sending of personal information - Don't send personal information from public networks, such as those at a cafe or public library. Also, don't use your device's "auto log-in" feature, which allows automatic login to websites and email, unless you are certain the device won't be lost or stolen.
  • Install tracing and remote deletion software - It's a good idea to install software to find your phone's location in case it's ever lost or stolen. Also, software that allows you to remotely delete data from your phone will help to protect your personal information.

Getting Help

If you have questions about online safety and mobile devices, such as how best to protect yourself or what to do if you've been victimized, you can consult with a consumer protection attorney through FindLaw.

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