Mobile devices are an essential part of everyday living, but many people don’t realize the security risks that these devices face. When someone has their entire life on their phone, they can end up getting their identity stolen, their work disrupted, and their money stolen. Understanding the mobile security risks that are out there helps people avoid situations that could lead to these negative consequences.
Unintentional Data Sharing
Some applications are not clear on what data they collect from the user, so people can end up giving up far more of their information than they realize. These applications may sell the information to third parties, put it on the dark web for hackers, or otherwise use it in ways that are not authorized by the individual. Pay close attention to privacy policies and other terms of service for an application when installing it on a system. These documents may be tedious to read, but they could hide concerning language about what the developers can do with this data. It’s better to take the time and be well-informed, than find out later that a person signed away their rights to data.
Connecting to Public Wi-Fi Networks
Public Wi-Fi networks might be convenient when someone is going on errands, but they are far too risky to use them without some sort of protection on the mobile device. Malicious individuals could intercept data being sent on this network, try to access the mobile device through the network, and put keyloggers and other malware in place. A virtual private network app, or VPN, will encrypt all of the data that the mobile device sends out, which renders this information useless even if it does get stolen. The VPN service has the encryption key safely stored away, so hackers won’t get any usable data in this type of attack. See an example of a VPN solution and download VPN here.. The ideal approach for avoiding this cybersecurity risk is to not connect to untrusted networks. Rely on the private mobile data connection when possible, with public Wi-Fi being the last connection resort.
Installing Malicious Apps
Not every app is going to be safe for a mobile device. Hackers may publish malware directly or hijack a legitimate app so they can put their code into users’ devices. Even apps on the official marketplaces aren’t immune to being compromised, so it’s important to read through reviews and only install software that functions the way it should and doesn’t contain any unwelcome surprises. If someone is installing applications from sources other than the official app stores for each mobile platform, then they must be doubly cautious that they are downloading exactly what they think they are. It can be difficult to remove malware and having to factory reset a phone could result in important files and documents being lost. Backup the mobile device on a regular basis so it’s easy to get it up and running like it used to following this type of attack. Only restore the backups once it’s confirmed that the hack is removed from the system, and that the backup files were not compromised by this attempt.
Falling Victim to Phishing Attempts
Phishing is a hacking attempt that uses social engineering to try to trick people into giving up sensitive information. It typically begins as an email that looks legitimate, requesting information or providing a link to login or reset passwords, or a similar request. The website may also look legitimate, but it’s a fake one that’s designed by the hacker. People could end up installing malware on their mobile devices, providing their username and password, or even giving credit card information to the attacker. Identifying phishing attempts and verifying any suspicious emails are two ways to fight back against this method. If the phishing attempt is positioning itself as a particular company, forward the message to the company in question and let them know that someone is attempting to scam their customers. They can use their cybersecurity measures and resources to figure out how to stop the attack and they have the opportunity to warn other customers that it’s happening. If there is a website domain associated with the phishing emails, notify the web host, the domain registrar, and any other entities associated with that property.
Problems with Encryption
Encryption is a way to protect mobile data from being intercepted and stolen by malicious third-parties. However, if the encryption isn’t working properly, then it could lead to a sense of false security. Not only could the data end up being left unprotected, broken encryption could end up being far worse than nothing at all. There are many ways that this situation could lead to someone’s personal and private information getting stolen, which could lead to financial damages, identity theft, and other adverse actions. Check that the encryption app or service is properly working periodically to avoid major issues. Encryption is a great way to protect against identity theft and losing sensitive data, but that only goes as far as how well the encryption solution is operating.
Apps Failing to Authenticate Identity Properly
Applications may use tokens to keep users signed in to their accounts or for other types of mobile sessions. If the applications don’t authenticate users often enough, or set up tokens in a way that they could get stolen, a hacker may be able to take over that session and use it for their own purposes. Once the attacker breaks in and gets access to those services, they may be able to make changes on the app, the account information, or the operating system itself. The user may end up locked out of their account or their phone entirely, depending on exactly how the exploit happens. Ideally, applications use more than one factor for authentication. Two-factor and multi-factor authentication use a person’s username and password as one form of authentication, then request that the user provides another piece, such as a pass code that gets changed regularly, a biometric option, or other ways of proving their identity.
Physical Security Issues
Mobile devices are small and easy to take along, which puts them at risk of being lost or stolen. Even setting it down for a moment can be problematic if the device isn’t locked properly. Once someone gets the phone, they may be able to find out all sorts of information about a person. They could get bank account details, phone numbers, addresses, credit card numbers, and logins for many websites and applications. In the best case scenario, the person simply wipes the phone and sells it used for some money. In the worst case scenario, an individual may end up in financial trouble or even face difficulties at work if sensitive business data was on the phone. A remote wiping and tracking application can help locate the phone or, in the event that the phone is inaccessible, assists in wiping the device of all information.
Apps With Extensive Access to System Functions and Data
Many people click through the permission requests of an application quickly, without considering what that means. Some applications ask for far more access than they actually need, which can lead to data breaches and other problems down the road. Even if the developer isn’t asking for a malicious purpose, it can be concerning for privacy if they can access cameras, microphones, call logs, and similar parts of the phone. In newer mobile operating systems, it’s possible to have fine-tuned control over the permissions that an application requests. Deny the ones that seem like they aren’t relevant to the functionality of the phone, and consider asking the developers why they need that type of access. In some cases, it’s a necessary part of the application. If someone is uncomfortable with this, they should find another application in the same category to use instead.
Apps and Mobile Operating Systems that are Outdated
One of the biggest security issues on a mobile device is when it’s using outdated software. Older devices and operating system versions may not have the same patch support they used to when they originally came out. Manufacturers and wireless carriers stop supporting these devices after a certain point, which means that they don’t have access to the latest security updates. If a hacker wants to gain access to a wide network of devices, they can focus on the ones that haven’t been patched and updated. Applications also need to be frequently updated and audited. If an application hasn’t received an update in years, then it’s likely that there are security holes present that could lead to major issues if a hacker wanted to use that loophole. Most versions of application stores allow users to set up automatic updates for their applications. Many wireless carriers will push operating system updates out over the air to the devices. Otherwise, it’s important to frequently check whether system updates are available to stay safe.
Bluetooth Based Attacks
Bluetooth is a helpful technology for connecting peripherals to a mobile device without the need to use physical connectors, but it also represents an opportunity for hackers to connect to the system or intercept the Bluetooth signals. Limit Bluetooth connectivity to when it’s necessary, rather than keeping it on all the time. By not having an open Bluetooth connection, it removes that potential attack vector from hackers so the phone can stay safer.
There are many security risks facing mobile devices, and the most important thing anyone can do about this situation is to stay informed of these potential problems. Knowing the signs and what could happen goes a long way towards combating hackers and security exploits.