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2 San Diego Uptown News | Apr. 1–14, 2011

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TECHNOLOGY “Let’s take the mystery out of technical talk, and bring computers down to earth.”

Smartphones and identity theft O

Protect yourself with a few simple rules

ne in three people reading this column have a smartphone. But

few smartphone owners know they’re putting their financial and personal information at significant risk. Unfortunately, smartphones significantly raise the risk of identity theft. The good news is, if you know what the risks are, you can mitigate your exposure just by using a few rules.

First, let’s generalize and define

a smartphone as a mobile device with Internet access. Conse- quently, smartphones include the iPhone, Droid, BlackBerry and others. Next, consider that almost everyone carries a smartphone these days, and we store a great deal of data on them. In addition to names and numbers, we store passwords, access to social net- working sites, banking and credit card information, etc. The prevalence of smartphones and the amount of data we store on them make them the personal com- puters (pc) of the current era; the problem is: Smartphones don’t have the security that comes with a pc. Personal computers are built on layers of technology that inher- ently help protect users’ data from outsiders. These layers are built into the networks, routers and the computers themselves. Yet, even with all the security firewalls and anti-virus solutions provide, hackers still gain access to per- sonal information with viruses. (Recently, I had a client who found himself with a very common virus or malware that demanded he

TechTalk Geof Bartell

enter his credit card information to get a software upgrade that would remove the virus. Of course, it was a scam to get his identity. We removed the virus, and his per- sonal information was not compro- mised.) Smartphones, on the other hand, don’t have built-in security, and because they’re so widely used and many users are unaware of their lack of security, they are a new easy target for data hijackers. The good news is that, gener-

ally, malicious software, viruses, malware or identity theft require some sort of input from device owners. Recently there was a free chess game available online that, once downloaded, would send private information back to the developer. Think of malware as vampires; they can’t come into your house unless they are invited. Hackers are very creative and will try to trick you to install an app, respond to a text or somehow ask you to give them your financial information without you knowing. The best way to prevent this is to not allow them in, in the first place. What about anti-virus software for your smartphone, you ask? I’m not a big believer in it. It gives people a false sense of security, and is usually ineffective in preventing the type of security threats we are seeing today.

Instead, follow a few simple

rules to minimize your risk: • First and foremost, don’t do personal banking from your smartphone. That means, don’t

log into your bank accounts, and don’t enter credit card informa- tion from your phone. That data is exactly what the bad-guys are looking for. If you have malware on your phone, your financial data will be compromised. Do banking at the bank or from a computer, and always use a secure network. I am hoping that in future smartphone security will improve, but until then be cautious.

• Be wary of the apps you down- load, and don’t download free apps or apps from a non-reputa- ble source.

• Know where you’re buying the app, who else has it and how long it’s been out on the market. Keep in mind that most of the time nothing’s for free.

• Password protect your phone and enable remote wipe capabilities in case your phone is lost or stolen. I don’t want to freak anyone out, but I think it’s important that we have the information to protect ourselves. As with anything, if the bad-guys want it badly enough, they can get it.

Please send me feedback or questions. I am always happy to have new discussion topics!u

Geof Bartell owns Fishbone Computing, which specializes in technical support, IT consulting and project management for both busi- ness and residential customers. Geof works locally in University Heights and throughout San Diego County. Contact Geof at: (858) 754 9359 of- fice, (619) 454 8000 mobile, geof@, fishbone-

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