Four simple rules for smartphone safety

Last week, an Android app was revealed at the 18th annual Network and Distributed System Security Symposium (NDSS) in San Diego, California that demonstrated just how much information could be disseminated from your phone during the course of a single call. The purpose was to demonstrate how smartphone apps can record financial data you give over the phone while on a call and transmit it to other locations. Named Soundminer, this proof-of-concept app for Google’s Android OS monitors the phone calls you make. It also records credit card numbers you either speak into your phone’s microphone or type into its number pad.

Given that one of Google’s primary boasts during the release of Gingerbread was the ability to use your phone as a credit card to make in-store purchases, the gravity of this new threat is clear. While smartphone users in general are becoming savvier about not allowing an untrusted app access to all of their phone’s data, many don’t view a request for microphone access as an active security threat. This issue isn’t exclusive to Android phones either. Recent developer studies have shown that many iPhone apps have also collected user data that tracks your location, among other things.

Although there are clearly ways around smartphone security, as long as you use yours responsibly and are careful with what you install, you should be safe.

Here are 4 ways to keep your smartphone secure:

1. Use discretion when downloading apps to your phone. Make sure you trust the developer, and do an online search to find out more about them if you’re unfamiliar.

2. Only download apps from sites you trust, and read reviews on the app before making the ultimate decision to install it.

3. Take care to note what private data each app is requesting access to. Be it your location, personal information, or text messages, some apps want to access a lot of information. Ensure it makes sense for the app to access that information before choosing to grant it.

4. Make sure to download app updates to your phone when prompted. Many of these come with additional security patches that will help protect your phone.

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