What can hackers get from your smartphone? With all the things we use our phones for today, sometimes it’s almost easier to ask the question, “What don’t we use our phones for?” From banking to blogging, smartphones have allowed us to put power in our hands like never before.
But there’s a problem: that much power concentrated in one location is an attractive target for hackers. Seeking to profit from unsecure data, hackers target everything from big company servers to individual smartphones. You might be surprised at just how much a hacker can gain by penetrating a single device.
Accessing Financial Ruin
Getting hacked happens in a variety of different ways. Hackers can use malware or scams such as phishing. They can even directly access devices via unsecured WiFi networks (the free WiFi at your favorite café, for instance).
Regardless of how a hacker infiltrates your device, the results can end up being the same. If you access important accounts on your smartphone, such as your bank account or your email account, hackers can gain access and start causing trouble.
Many bank accounts, for example, allow you to transfer funds straight from your phone. A hacker could use malware to steal your account name and password when you log in on your phone and then transfer your entire account. You’d be left without a penny, perhaps even a negative balance.
The same goes for your email account. Most phones have an always-logged-in feature, making it even easier to access your private conversations without you ever noticing. While most email is benign and uninteresting, the occasional email contains account information or conversations only meant for you.
Of course, stolen login information can be prevented with services such as mSecure. Instead of logging into services directly, you instead enter a master password to unlock mSecure. You then get access to your stored passwords, which are encrypted and are essentially immune from being stolen. Plus, you can make these passwords incredibly difficult and complex since you don’t need to enter them manually each time (and thus don’t need to remember them directly).
Consider utilizing two-step authentication for apps and services that allow for it. Apple users especially can benefit from two-step authentication, as the feature has been integrated into iCloud and other apps since iOS9.
Making a Social Scene
In the past decade, social media has exploded into untold levels of popularity. Services such as Facebook are so universal that nearly every other online company has sought some level of integration. Naturally, smartphones play an integral part in the social media experience. They’re also a great way for hackers to start trouble.
When a hacker gets into a device with malware or over an unsecure network, they’re able to access accounts that are always logged in. While we discussed email before, social media presents a new opportunity for hackers. They can use your accounts to post malicious links that contain phishing scams or malware that then steal information from other users.
Getting hacked socially can be crippling because not everyone automatically understands what has happened. Friends, co-workers and even customers can become victims and believe you are the one at fault. The fallout can take some time to clean up.
As with password theft, prevention is one of the better tools to utilize. Services and strategies you might consider utilizing for a smartphone include:
- Anti-virus apps
- Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
- Logging out
When people started to migrate from personal computers to smartphones, malware did the same, in a manner of speaking. Malware works a little differently on phones than it does on computers, but the effects are similar: broken or lost devices and stolen information. Anti-virus apps help prevent this by stopping infected files and apps from running before they can cause problems.
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
One service growing in popularity as a result of so many security concerns is the Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN is particularly useful for mobile users because it can be used to access public, unsecured networks without the usual risks.
Much like how services such as mSecure utilize encryption to keep hackers from stealing passwords, VPNs utilize encryption to create a secure tunnel around your internet connection. It keeps hackers from using data they steal because they simply can’t decipher what the data is. They work for anything from iPhones to PCs, with the caveat that VPNs use a subscription model rather than a one-time fee.
One of the most basic ways to keep intruders out of your smartphone accounts is simply not to leave accounts logged in. While that does cut down on the convenience factor such apps provide, logging in manually each time makes your device more private and more secure.
Smiling for the Camera
Hacks over the past few years have taught us that while hackers have a great deal of interest in stealing financial information and personal data, they also have an acute interest in stealing people’s photos.
But should we be surprised? The number of pictures a person stores in his or her phone can sometimes reach into the thousands. Most photos are entirely benign—a picture of the cat standing on two legs or Aunt Judy cutting the cake on her 80th birthday. Then there are the photos we’d prefer not to share.
Those are the kinds of pictures we keep between ourselves and people we trust. When compromising photos get leaked as a result of a hack, bad things can happen. Professionals who are held to a higher standard of ethics can lose their jobs, find themselves distrusted by co-workers and face general embarrassment from friends and family.
While it’s uncertain what the hacker endgame is for photo theft, it could just be to create suffering. Regardless, you’ll want to keep your device secure in case there are photos you’d prefer to keep to yourself.
Using your device’s backup is a good way to keep track of photos, but make sure you keep the login information safe. The 2014 iCloud incident that led to hundreds of celebrity photos being leaked onto the internet only happened because celebrities didn’t recognize scams in their email and ended up handing over their usernames and passwords.
Scanning for Scams
The many things you keep on your phone—private conversations, client information, personal accounts, etc.—can all be lost to a sinister scam. If you learn how to do anything, learn how to recognize when something’s not quite right.
Keep an eye out for emails, SMS messages and social media posts that contain unusual grammar or requests from the sender. Look out for too-good-to-be-true messages, including the infamous Nigerian prince scam.
Always check website URLs if you’re planning to visit a link someone else asked you to click on. Tapping and holding a link will display the target page and will help you tell the difference between real pages such as Twitter.com and Tweeter.com; the former is clearly the real address, while the latter could be a fake website designed to look identical to Twitter but loaded with malicious coding.
Just remember: Your smartphone has a lot of great features, but that also means it has a lot to lose. Keep it safe!
About the Author:
Faith specializes in online safety and preventing people from becoming victims to the latest scams. She writes on a variety of topics, covering the diverse arena that internet security has come to encompass over the past twenty years.