Co-authored by Stephen Bryen, CEO Ziklag Systems
Smartphones and tablets are great! Unlike desktop computers and "schlep-tops" (laptops that you have to haul around), the smartphone can be attached to your waste or wrist or dropped in your coat pocket or bag. It is super-transportable-and powerful.
The average smartphone today has all the computational power of a computer, a slimmed down operating system, rapid loading of countless APPS (the majority of which are free), and connectivity almost anywhere in the world.
What's not to like? And like them we do, as does the world. Even though the pace of adoption is just starting to slow, the number of smartphones passed 1 billion units in the third quarter of 2012. That's a lot of smartphones which have been sold far more rapidly than the PC.
So we should be happy as a lark, or at least as happy as the telecoms who sell us the voice and data services the smartphone needs to function in the wild.
But maybe we should also think a little. We are storing all sorts of personal information on our smartphone such as the names of our friends and business acquaintances, our personal schedule, connections to our social media pages and to our email and SMS messages. Our smartphone knows where we are, where we have been, and if we are using the GPS even where we are going and approximately when we will get there.
In addition, everything we say on a smartphone is being broadcast over radio waves, whether the radio waves are provided by our telecom provider, or through a WIFI (another radio) or Bluetooth (yet another radio) connection. Which means that someone interested in our communications has plenty of opportunity to listen in.
Even if our phone is turned off, a hacker or intruder may have the means to turn the phone back on without letting you know. You won't see the screen light up or any other activity on the phone. But ON it is -which means that your most private conversations can be overheard.
How hard is any of this to do? Not very. There are hundreds of companies out there that will sell you the tools -some of them are even free. And the tools are just APPS that you can plant on someone's phone. Sure, there are good spy APPS and cheap junky APPS. But the professionals know where you can find the good ones.
People in America, especially, are very trusting and want to believe people are good, not bad. So they say, no one will be interested in me, so why worry? But people are connected to people, and the target may not be you, but it may be leaders in your company, or the chief technical officer, or the patent attorney, or your tax lawyer. You will have that information on your phone, maybe in your contact folder, maybe in your email, or perhaps in a company supplied APP. In any case, targeting you gets the intruder to the real target -and the result is that the target is compromised and never knows how it happened, since he or she only connects with "trusted" people like you.
Today there is a huge amount of government spying -and we are learning more about it every day. I know that, you say, but I have nothing to hide. Maybe that is true, but are you sure that some civil servant or bureaucrat who has your most personal information will keep it inside the government? Or will he or her make a business out of selling the information -a sort of incidental profit center. No one can say. If your American Express or VISA card, or your Capital One card is not in your wallet, but in your phone, look out! What about your social security number? What about your personal identity? It can be stolen, and its theft will be very costly and difficult for you.
The amount of corporate spying and foreign-sponsored espionage is staggering. Ask the Brits who just found out that their favorite evening newspaper was filling its pages by hacking the phones of the famous and not so famous, and anyone else who could give them a good story for their pages. In the British case, the newspaper guys paid private investigators to do the dirty work. And so they did.
Our company, Ziklag Systems, provides a comprehensive solution that is right for the enterprise level. For personal users who are buying and using their own phones, the guiding word is "be careful -be very careful."
Here are two good rules that may help you survive in the smartphone jungle:
(1) When downloading an APP that interests you, pay attention to the "permissions" it is asking for. Don't just tap on "Install." Read what it says and decide if you really want to use the APP if it is taking your location information, connecting to your social media like Facebook and Twitter, or gobbling up your Gmail. If you don't like an APP from someone you don't know connecting to your personal information, don't install the APP.
(2) Keep your WIFI and Bluetooth turned OFF when you don't absolutely need them. If you don't really need them they drain your battery and they may also drain all your personal information. Only connect with WIFI and Bluetooth at truly trusted places. Airlines, trains and coffee shops are NOT trusted places. A lot of con-artists hover around these places and they have intercept equipment ready to grab all your information. You won't "see" them; they will "see" you.
Don't use WIFI or Bluetooth in the airport, on planes or trains unless you have absolutely no choice. And when you must attend an important meeting, lock your phone up in your desk or leave it with the front desk for them to care for it (make sure you have password protection on your phone). This is the best way to keep a spy phone out of your meeting place, your business and your life.
Follow Rebecca Abrahams on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RMAbrahams