Last year, a security vulnerability was discovered in the Android operating system that allowed hackers to gain access to users' smartphones simply by sending a video file embedded in a text message. The intrusion shed a harsh light on smartphone security because of the ease with which this hack was carried out. The hackers didn't need to break through layers of passwords and fingerprint scanning tools to access personal information. All they needed was a phone number.
Google was quick to offer a security fix, but we can never really know when the next vulnerability will leave our data open to attack. As users, the only thing we can do is try to stay educated on the types of vulnerabilities that exist on any given phone. It's the best way to give our personal data a fighting chance. Here are a few secrets you might not know about your phone's security:
Android Users Are Especially Vulnerable
Google's Android OS is built on open source technology, which means that anyone can look at the code and customize it to fit their specific needs. This has a lot of benefits. It allows the development community to create an endless supply of tweaks and applications and then share them with other users for immediate feedback. Indeed, the open source nature of Android has made for one of the most robust and creative development spaces across all technologies.
However, it creates some fairly serious issues as far as security is concerned. If your particular need is to find ways to steal data from mobile phone users, then Google has provided the perfect training ground. Not only can hackers search the code for vulnerabilities, but they can easily create malicious apps and share them with Google's app store, Google Play. The quickest remedy? Never download an application from an untrusted source.
iOS Users Aren't Off the Hook
By comparison, Apple is extremely careful about who has access to their development software, making it tough for anyone with ill intent to have a look under iOS' hood for vulnerabilities. Apple also requires that all applications go through rigorous testing before they are made available on the App Store. Although it significantly limits the amount of software available, the "locked fortress" approach makes it difficult to pass malicious software to the public.
It's difficult, but not impossible. There is always the possibility that software with inadvertent security flaws makes it through the vetting process. That extra layer of scrutiny can also create a false sense of safety in users, who might be more likely to trust an app simply because it's available in the App store. The same rule applies: only download an app if you know where it came from.
User-Created Vulnerabilities Are Most Common
Even high-level hackers will tell you that one of the best ways to find private information on someone is by simply digging through their trash. All of the data-encryption in the world can't save you from the vulnerabilities created by fundamental human nature. The same goes for smartphones, where the bulk of data breaches occur when users forget to use basic common sense.
Don't ever try to respond to text messages or emails from unknown sources, and never click on any links they contain. If you have text-based notifications from your credit card company or utility, make sure you save the number to your contacts so that a similar number can't be used by a spammer to sneak past your security. The most obvious vulnerability is often the most ignored: use a password to unlock your phone. Google and Apple are always working to make it harder to access your personal data. Don't contribute to making it easier.