Getting smart about smartphone safety

Four in 10 smartphone users in the United States will click on an unsafe link on a mobile device this year, according to a new report by Lookout, a smartphone security firm. That figure will only continue to grow as the number of smartphone and tablet owners in the world hits a billion over the next few years, according to Forrester Research.

Unsafe links include those that download viruses, malware and spyware onto a user’s mobile device—the usual culprits most people have heard about. Lookout flags several more insidious methods used by hackers that are spreading from Eastern Europe and Russia, including attempts to tamper with legitimate mobile tools and advertising systems. “Five percent of free Android mobile applications contain one or more aggressive ad networks, which can access personal information or display confusing ads,” it says in the State of Mobile Security 2012. “In addition, a number of high-profile iOS applications raised red flags about privacy issues this year.”

Aggressive ad networks often push out-of-app ads, change browser settings and accessing personally identifiable information without suitable notification or transparency.

What can mobile users do to protect themselves? Several things, some physical, some virtual.

  • Set a password on your mobile device so that if it is lost or stolen, your data is more difficult to access.
  • Only download apps from trusted sources.
  • Beware of pirated apps that were once sold and now appear to be free.
  • Once you’ve clicked a link, pay attention to the address to ensure it matches the website it claims to be.
  • Check your phone for unexpected activity such as unusual text messages or suddenly decreased battery life.
  • Check your phone bill for unexpected charges.
  • Download and install firmware updates as soon as they are available.