03/27/2010 02:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Hackers Go Mobile: Is Your Cell Phone Prepared?

The current investigation into the mobile phone hacking operation allegedly perpetrated by the UK's News of the World has highlighted the vulnerability of mobile communications that politicians, celebrities and everyday users have neglected to protect from unauthorized use. As we increasingly move from using personal computers to relying on mobile handsets, the need for individuals to take steps to protect the data on their handsets grows ever more urgent. Mobile usage is vast. Each day, billions of messages are sent via mobile around the world, which is more texts than Google searches..

Hackers can use a variety of methods to access voice and data transferred via, or stored on, mobile handsets, be it images, text messages, or even voice mails. This includes everything from installing ghost programs on the handset that will monitor all communications to accessing over-air radio wave transmissions from the mobile. Sophisticated spy software exists that users wouldn't even know is on their phone. However, there are simple steps that users can take to ensure that their personal information is not compromised.

Mike Hawkes, Director of Security for the Mobile Data Association suggests top tips for consumers and businesses who want to prevent unauthorized access of their private information.

How to protect your mobile from hackers:

  1. Consider how information is stored on your handset. If you were to lose your handset, would someone else be able to easily access passwords, bank details or other personal details?
  2. Ensure your handset is password-protected and, if possible, encrypted.
  3. Change your voice mail password. Users who fail to set a voice mail password are opening the door to would-be data thieves into their mail box, as networks will set all voice mail services with a default password that will remain the same until the user changes it directly.
  4. Think before you accept downloads pushed to you. In the same way that you wouldn't download a program from an unfamiliar source onto your computer, users need to consider the source of the content before installing on their handsets.
  5. If your handset can access WiFi, Bluetooth or other unprotected networks, think about the content you send and receive. While your provider network will protect you when you are accessing information on its network, any content you send or receive when connected to external networks like WiFi is not secure.
  6. Consider using one of a range of programs that can help protect data from unauthorized use both on your mobile handset and when in transit.

This crisis has exposed once and for all the necessity for both individuals and consumers to protect content on their mobile handsets. Mobiles now act as laptops as well as phones for accessing the internet. Make sure you are aware of the sheer extent of personal data you are storing and exchanging on your mobile, and take steps to prevent that from getting into the wrong hands.

Chris Brasington

CEO Starfish Consultants