Sunday 22 October 2017

SMART CONSUMER: Protect your smartphone

Tina Leonard

It's all become a little familiar. We know that email attachments we receive from unknown sources could mess up our computers, and that giving personal information in response to an email pretending to be from our bank can only lead to trouble.

And then there are the big hacking stories. Last week, just as Sony restarted their Playstation store following cyber hacks some weeks ago, they were hacked again.

A group called Lulzsec claimed responsibility for the new attack. This time the target was Sony Pictures Entertainment, and they claim to have retrieved the personal information of one million users.

Lulzsec claim they did it to show how vulnerable the company's security is but the attack doesn't appear to have been for commercial gain.

This week Nintendo announced the same group had hacked their server weeks ago but could not get through their security to any data.

But not all hackers are so benign. Last week specific Gmail accounts were hacked, including those of US government officials.

And remember your data is not just held on your PC. It's on your smartphone too. And that makes the device vulnerable to security threats.

Errol Finkelstein, General Manager of smartphone defence experts, Blackbelt Defence, says: "People think their phones are okay but a substantial amount, up to 20% are not. In fact smartphones have a higher infection rate than PCs."

What? I have a smartphone and I'm sure it's fine. But Finkelstein insists that a lot of the time we don't even know.

He maintains that breakdowns could be due to infection, or a shorter battery life could be a sign of a virus plaguing your phone.

He cites as an example an incident that happened over a year ago where half a million handsets in Southern Europe and the Middle East started sending text messages to France every few seconds. According to Finkelstein the telecoms companies, realising what was happening, dropped the charges, so customers won't have known had happened. But how could all of this affect you, the user?

Ronan Murphy of IT service provider Smarttech claims that the biggest threat comes from the fact that we store so much information on our handsets. "A mobile device has become a corporate workplace", he says.

This means that information contained in emails, numbers and addresses and your account details stored for use when buying apps or tunes or for social network sites, and even when using Skype, could all be a potential goldmine for a fraudster.

Or malwear could prompt your phone to text a premium rate number. Threats can come from apps so be careful that you're confident of the source of the app you download.

By the way, Apple say their system is secure, and it is telling that they will not cover you for problems if you have downloaded an app from outside their own store.

There is growth in the production of malwear, says Peter Harrison of Blackbelt Defence, mainly in Russia and China, and he says it's not some "spotty teen" but criminals intent on making money.

So be careful when downloading apps, use multiple passwords and change them regularly, and back up all your information.

You can consider buying software protection, and the only one available in Ireland through an Irish distributor is by Blackbelt Defence, sold by Smarttech (priced at €19.95).

Features include locating stolen handsets, wiping data remotely if the phone is missing, and providing layered walls of protection against viruses by scanning incoming files and blocking them if malwear is found, just like the software you would use on your computer.

Irish Independent

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