Your Smartphone is Easy to Hack, and Your Money Is In It


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — You are carrying the keys to most every detail of your private life in your hands, and it's subject to a "grab and hack" at any time. Your smartphone, even if it can only be unlocked with what is called "biometric authentication" — using a fingerprint rather than a passcode for access — can be easily accessed. Berlin-based Security Research Labs has even posted video tutorials showing how just how simple it is to hack an iPhone 5s with "fingerprint spoofs." It takes only a few moments.

And chances are, your smartphone is even easier than that to break into.

Nearly 70% of Americans believe that storing payment information on their smartphone is unsafe, according to a survey released by PayPal and the National Cyber Security Alliance. But nearly two-thirds (63%) of those surveyed don't have a clear idea about what financial information is actually stored on their smartphones. And worst of all, their mobile devices are easy pickings for hackers. More than half of respondents said they don't lock their mobile device even with a PIN.

"The survey results clearly indicate that consumers are increasingly using their mobile devices to conduct transactions," said Michael Kaiser, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. "However, they also show that consumers need to get more active about mobile security, especially around basic security measures such as adding a PIN code or password to their devices and understanding what kinds of information their devices store."

Two-thirds of the people surveyed said their smartphone is never further than one room away, and one in 10 said they keep their phone handy everywhere they go. One quarter of respondents said they complete at least one financial transaction per day on their smartphone, while one in six said they make at least 25% of all their purchases on their smartphone.

The National Cyber Security Alliance says these steps should be taken by consumers to use their mobile devices safely:

  • Always activate a PIN or lock function for your mobile device: A PIN is the simplest and most important thing you can do to ensure security on your mobile device, especially if it is lost or stolen.
  • Automate software updates: Many software programs automatically connect and update to defend against known risks and security flaws. Turn on automatic updates on your mobile device if that's an available option.
  • Use common sense when downloading apps: Unknown or repackaged apps can contain malware designed to steal financial information from a mobile device, so always buy or download apps from companies you trust. When installing applications, review permissions and decide whether you're comfortable granting the access they ask for.
  • Enable "Find My Device": If your phone, carrier or antivirus software supports the "find my device" feature, it's a good idea to activate it. This functionality will help you find your device if it's lost or stolen, and lock it or wipe it clean remotely if you need to.
  • Back up your device: It is critical to back up your device on a regular basis. Some operating systems offer this option as an automated service. If you ever need to exercise the remote wipe feature mentioned above, you will be glad you have a current backup that you can recover to a new device.

— By Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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