Mobile Security Threats and Prevention:

Mobile cell phone security has been a growing concern as technology has improved and cell phone use has increased in recent years. Access to and use of the cache of personal information stored in each individual’s cell phone has raised the question of how to balance personal privacy in a digital age, throughout which the monitoring and retrieval of data for law enforcement, public safety, and health issues have become more commonplace and even a required cost of doing business. We use our cell phones for managing everything from talking to texting to tweeting, from payments to personal health to productivity, and everything in between. We use them as a centralized digital depository for much of our personal information; and that comes with huge risks that we often overlook.

We tend to view our phones as a convenient catch-all for storing photos of IDs and other private documents like insurance cards, for quick access when needed. Storing these things on our phones exposes us to security concerns in general, but even more significantly because we tend to have a false sense of security when using our phones and neglect to take safety precautions to protect our personally-identifying information (PII). The best way to protect your private PII is simply to avoid keeping it on your phone at all. But if that is not realistic for you, there are precautions you can take to help safeguard the data you store there.

Photos

Hackers access photos stored on our cell phones most commonly. They can access the images and other personal information via the metadata of those photos (e.g. location information, etc.). They can also access any images linked to different apps we have on your phone because app permissions usually call for access to all stored photos. Bottom line: we must encrypt the photos on our phones if we want them to be secure.

Unsecured apps

Many cell phone users download apps directly from unsecured websites (rather than from the Google Play or Apple App stores). We often don’t consider that the apps we download might have certain imperceptible security vulnerabilities that put our photos and other PII at risk. For instance, some apps quietly collect our data to leverage later for financial gain—notice of this practice might be vaguely mentioned in the fine print that people often skip reading. If any app wants access to more than what is required for the service offered, the best course of action is NOT to download it.

Public WiFi

Hackers can easily access your cell phone and PII when you connect to public WiFi. A public connection allows people access to your digital activity, as well as your IP address. Many of us use free WiFi hotspots to limit data plan use due to cost; before doing so, we should always consider the lack of safety and avoid using them for long periods, and avoid logging into personal accounts (especially financial accounts). Encryption has made things safer, but the risk of being hacked remains; we have to decide whether the lack of security is a risk worth taking for the convenience of using public WiFi networks.

Paying attention to these things is so important in this digital age for safeguarding personal and private information on your cell phone. Besides these things (and basics like locking your phone with a passcode, turning off Bluetooth and location sharing, and never clicking on suspicious links or opening unrecognizable text messages that could result in a phishing attack or malware download), you should consistently check and adjust your privacy and security conditions via your cell phone settings. Checking your settings often allows you to manage access most effectively to any PII you have stored on your phone. Because our mobile devices have morphed into more than just cell phones—they function as our wallets, cameras, notepads, and more—taking security precautions when using mobile devices is more necessary than ever.

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RESOURCES

Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

https://privacyrights.org/

Texas State Law Library

https://guides.sll.texas.gov/recording-laws

Federal Communications Commission

https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/protecting-your-privacy

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC)

https://www.healthit.gov/topic/privacy-security-and-hipaa/your-mobile-device-and-health-information-privacy-and-security