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Your Smartphone: Friend or Foe?

Smartphone with the word hacked in red
By Eric Sinrod | Last updated on

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.

Wherever we go these days, whether at work, at home, in restaurants, outside, or practically anywhere else, people reflexively go to their smartphones constantly.

Why? Because those little handheld devices can accomplish so much. We can send communications across various platforms, conduct business tasks, check on the news, shop, participate in social media, listen to music, watch videos, and the list goes on and on.

So, What's the Problem?

Smartphones are vulnerable and present real risks for users. The three primary security vulnerabilities in smartphones involve hardware, software and networks, and phone numbers.

USB Ports

When it comes to hardware, the charging port on a smartphone can be a weakness. Use caution when plugging into a public USB jack for a prompt charge at an airport, cafe, or other public place. Doing this can create vulnerabilities to various viruses and malware. This is like finding a toothbrush on a sidewalk and putting it, with all its germs, in your mouth.

Also, hackers can modify these public ports to install malware on a user's phone. From there, the data on the phone can be transferred to the hackers. And the modified USB ports can harvest information directly from the smartphone.

To avoid this risk, people should use the USB cord with her own charging block that can be plugged into a standard electrical outlet.

Network Risks

Regarding network risks, personal information can be targeted when using smartphones with unsecured wireless networks. Smartphone users should be cautious with public Wi-Fi, and certainly should not engage in matters such as financial transactions using public wireless networks. To avoid inadvertently using unsecure public networks, it is recommended to adjust phone settings not to use auto-connecting to WiFi.

With respect to software, smartphone users should regularly download software updates because they frequently contain the latest security patches.

Phone Numbers

Finally, regarding phone numbers, the two biggest problems are robocall scams and phone number theft.

U.S. consumers reportedly received 48 billion robocalls in 2018, a 57% increase over the prior year. There are all kinds of scams as part of those many robocalls, such as receiving a call that says that Social Security benefits will be cut off unless personal information is provided over the phone. The elderly in particular are vulnerable to these types of calls. Plainly, personal and financial information should not be provided over the phone if the smartphone user did not initiate the call herself to a trusted and reliable phone number.

With respect to phone number theft, scammers at times will contact smartphone carriers pretending to be a user, and if they can confirm some personal information of the user, they will seek to transfer the phone number to the scammers. Once that has been accomplished, the scammers may be able to access other accounts of the smartphone user because phone numbers frequently are used as security keys. The advice here is to use challenging security questions and answers for your phone and other accounts.

Be safe out there!

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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