In Recognition of National Data Privacy Day, Attorney General Coakley Advises Massachusetts Consumers to Secure Their Mobile Devices
BOSTON – With nearly one of every two Americans using smart phones as powerful as desktop computers, and security threats to mobile devices reportedly expected to increase significantly this year, in recognition of National Data Privacy Day on Saturday, Attorney General Martha Coakley is urging consumers to protect their personal information by securing their phones.
“In today’s digital age, while we enjoy the benefits of technology, we must also be aware of the risks it presents,” AG Coakley said. “Criminals have turned to technology as access points for key personal information. The best way for consumers to protect themselves is to make sure their technological devices are secure.”
Smartphones are the new computers. With the exception of a few tasks, today’s smartphones are as fully featured as some of the high-end desktop and laptop computers with the ability to read and write email and documents, surf the web, and play games. They are essentially computers that fit into your pocket and you should protect it as if it was your laptop of home computer.
The amount of information taken from smart-phones depends upon how each individual consumer uses the device. That information can include bank account and credit card numbers as well as user names and passwords. Threats to smart phone security range from something as simple as a theft of a mobile device to viruses that are downloaded onto your phone through applications.
Data Privacy Day, which is internationally recognized on January 28, 2012, brings necessary awareness to an individual’s right to protect his or her most sensitive and personal data. The day brings together businesses, individuals, government agencies, non-profit groups, and academics in a dialogue about how personal data is collected, used, and stored.
AG Coakley offers the following consumer tips to assist consumers in keeping their personal data safe and securing their smart phones:
- Password Protect Your Phone: Loss or theft of your phone is the easiest way to put your personal data at risk, and with the MBTA recently releasing data showing that smartphone theft is on the rise, the AG’s Office recommends consumers secure their phones with a password to ensure that if it is misplaced, gaining access won’t be easy. Consumers should change their passwords frequently and should not use passwords containing their name, information found on their driver’s licenses, or other easy to guess passwords such as birthdates, anniversaries, and your children’s names. Encrypting your smartphone provides an even greater level of security.
- Set Up “Remote Wipe”: Most smart phones carry a “remote wipe” feature allowing consumers to destroy all data on a phone that is stolen including emails, texts, contacts, documents and passwords. Consumers should consult their smart phones’ instruction manuals to learn how to remotely wipe. For smartphones that do not have the feature, there are a number of programs that can be purchased to perform this function.
- Beware of Unknown Applications: While some third-party applications actually help consumers prevent viruses from overtaking their smart phones, others can be malicious. It is recommended that consumers always beware of the applications they are using. What kind of ratings and reviews does the application have? What company made the application? How much information does the application ask you to share? Applications can require a multitude of permissions including obtaining access to various functions of your smartphone such as your phones Global Positioning System (GPS) or camera. Applications can also access sensitive information stored such as contacts, text-messages, and email.
- Where Are You?: Geotagging is a relatively newer concept that allows a consumer to “tag” a photo or video with their current location. Usually, the geotag contains GPS coordinates for pinpoint accuracy. Similarly location-based services operate by utilizing the GPS on smartphones. Sometimes by “checking in” to participating merchants and locations, consumers can earn rewards or discounts. However, by “checking-in” others can find out where and how long consumers were not home. Consumers can prevent geo-tagging by turning the function off on their smart phones or by paying particular attention to pop-up requests when opening various applications or websites.
- Be Careful When Surfing: As stated earlier, smart phones can be as powerful as desktop computers and like desktops, they can pick up viruses and other mal-ware from simply surfing the Internet. It is recommended that consumers be careful when using the World Wide Web. Just as when working on a desktop, do not click on unknown links and do not open suspicious emails.
- Be Cautious When Online Banking and Shopping: Consumers should use caution when banking online and ensure that they are using a secure network and not an unsecured Wi-Fi hot spot. When shopping on-line, credit cards provide better protection than debit cards if your card is used fraudulently.