SOURCE: support.com

Support.com

September 20, 2011 08:00 ET

Keep Your Smartphone Private: Top Four Ways to Keep Hackers Out

As More Vital Data Gets Stored on Phones, the Need to Keep Them Safe, Private and Secure Increases Almost by the Minute

REDWOOD CITY, CA--(Marketwire - Sep 20, 2011) - As we put more and more vital information on our smartphones, the need to keep them safe, private and secure increases almost by the minute. The short list includes contact data, financial information, passwords, important documents, access to systems at your office or your home, and pictures that you wouldn't want shared over the Internet, say the experts at Support.com.

Virus attacks on mobile phones are significantly on the rise, illustrated recently in March when an attack affected more than 250,000 Android users. Moreover, a recent study entitled "Malicious Mobile Threats Report 2010/2011" by Juniper Networks found that "... consumer mobile devices are exposed to a record number of security threats," including a "400 percent increase in Android malware" over the past 18 months.

It's not just data that's vulnerable, as it's also been shown that the auto-answer feature installed on most smartphones can be hacked to transform the device into a listening machine that would enable someone to record and hear everything you say. This can be done by breaking into the phone's baseband processor -- which sends and receives radio signals on the cellular network -- by exploiting bugs in the firmware of its radio chips.

Scary stuff indeed, but before we get into tips on how to prevent phones from getting hacked, let's first review the three basic ways smartphones are attacked:

Physically -- The most basic method is simply gaining physical access to the device. Next time you're out to dinner, see how many people take their phones out and just leave them on the table. This is an unnecessary and easily preventable security risk that jeopardizes both personal and professional information!

Wirelessly (close-range) -- Your phone has many wireless channels going in and out of it that are hot targets for those thrill seekers who prefer to hack in at close range.

For starters there is the Bluetooth® connection for hands-free headsets (sure to gain popularity after a recent World Health Organization report linked cell phones to cancer!). These lines are also used for transmitting music to your car, or exchanging contact information with others at work or in a bar (and unfortunately can also be used to inadvertently share those pictures from last weekend).

That brings us to Wi-Fi, which can be exploited just like an airport hot-spot for laptops. Typically this is done by hackers who set up a fake "hot-spot," and, when you connect to it they can view your information or install software on your phone that can share information surreptitiously.

Even a business card and SMS can be used to not only hack into your phone but also run an application that will retrieve specific data back to the thief, send viruses, or create a "denial of service" scenario.

Wirelessly (from a distance) -- Of course the most powerful connection to your phone is via its Internet connection, which offers high-speed access directly to your data (from anywhere in the world -- and a proven channel for stealing data since the internet was invented!).

Similar to the fake "hot-spot" scenario above, the hacker tries to convince you to go to a website that installs spyware on your phone, which then acts as a "back-door" for transmitting all that personal information.

OK, now that we've covered the three basics of how hackers get in, let's cover the top four ways to keep hackers out:

1. Set a device lockout. All smartphones come with a security lockout. Granted people don't like to keep unlocking their phones every time there is an email, but leaving your phone open can prove disastrous.

There is a compromise solution: find a lock-out that is long enough for ongoing, day-to-day stuff, but short enough to protect your phone should it wind up in enemy hands (fifteen minutes might be a good compromise). On Android™ phones there is a feature that allows you to create a finger-swipe pattern "password" which is typically faster than a traditional, typed password.

While we're on the subject, we should also mention that using a stolen but unblocked smartphone with a registered contract SIM could be used by police to turn the tables on the thief, as in the case following the recent London riots and Chicago.

2. Choose friends and Bluetooth wisely. When establishing connections such as a Bluetooth connection, you need to authorize the "pairing." If asked to "pair" make sure you know with whom you are doing this (much like Dad's advice on choosing friends...).

You can also add security by making sure your Bluetooth connection is "NOT discoverable." By being "discoverable" you are inviting connections you may not want. If you don't require Bluetooth pairing then just shut it off entirely (an added advantage is you'll also extend your battery life).

For Wi-Fi connections, make sure that when you're connecting to a network you know that it is a trustworthy network (just like with your laptop). Be especially careful when in public hot-spot places like Starbucks or an airport!

3. Protect from viruses (another sound piece of advice from Dad!). Smartphones are not remarkably different from PCs in that they also can get viruses, and more-and-more of those viruses are designed to get at that treasure-trove of information that you have on your phone. Thus make sure you're running some form of anti-virus software to prevent malicious spyware from winding up on your phone and sending your information out over the web.

4. Have a plan to recover your lost phone. To reiterate, it's not uncommon for smartphones to grow legs and walk away (especially if you leave it on the bar or restaurant table). If this happens, make use of its built-in GPS to find where it went.

With the right software you can dial-in to the web from any computer and see where your phone was last seen. If you lost it behind the couch cushions you can also use this type of software to have it "scream" so you can echo-locate it even if you have it set on "silent" mode.

If you're still having issues, tech support companies such as Support.com can help make sure you're getting the most out of your mobile or Android device.

Based in North America, Support.com Personal Technology Experts® provide a cost-effective and a stress-free experience over the Internet and the phone. Available 24/7/365, Support.com Personal Technology Experts remove the pain, hassle and loss of productivity generally associated with tech repair, and assist with problems ranging from Repair & Maintenance, Virus & Malware Removal, Data Recovery, Computer Networking, Devices & Peripherals, Software & Applications, Mobile Devices, and much more.

Support.com recently announced its Secure My Smartphone for Android service where users gain access to the Support.com Personal Technology Experts, who in addition to installation/configuration of their protection software will also walk users through step-by-step instructions on how to use the built-in security features that Androids provide.

About Support.com
Support.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: SPRT) provides cloud-based technology services and software for consumers and small businesses. The Support.com Personal Technology Experts provide a quick, cost-effective and stress-free technology support experience over the Internet and the phone using the Company's advanced technology platform. Support.com also offers a wide range of easy-to-use software products that detect and repair common computer problems and optimize performance. Support.com offers programs through many of the nation's leading retailers, broadband service providers, software vendors and PC/CE OEMs, and provides software to over a million consumers and small businesses. For more information please visit us at: www.support.com, www.facebook.com/support.com, or http://twitter.com/#!/support_com.

Support.com, Inc. is an Equal Opportunity Employer. For more information, visit www.support.com.

Copyright © 2011 Support.com, Inc. All rights reserved. Support.com and Personal Technology Experts are trademarks or registered trademarks of Support.com, Inc. in the U.S. and other countries. Android is a trademark or registered trademark of Google, Inc. in the U.S. and other countries. Bluetooth is a trademark or registered trademark of Bluetooth SIG, Inc. in the U.S. and other countries. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

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