What do your devices know about you?
Nowadays it is widespread for people to own internet-connected devices, including smart TVs, smart home appliances, or music systems like Sonos. Smartphones in particular are indispensable;data collected this year indicates that there are 4 billion mobile users around the world. We use our phones on average once every 10 minutes for making payments, work, texting, navigation, reading the news, checking the weather, and more. Although our pocket supercomputers are easy and convenient to use in a range of diverse situations, the massive amount of personal information it continuously collects and stores brings several risks.
Information your devices can access
Due to the large amount of data our phone handles, it is hard to understand what type of information your phone has access to and more importantly, where there are vulnerabilities. Smartphones store personal data such as your name, email, or the type of device you are using. However, there are some advanced data collecting processes that include records of your searches, purchases, notes, things you read and what you have watched. So - what exactly do our devices know about us?
Many smart devices contain GPS chips that can track the exact location of the user. Apple, for instance, includes an additional feature, ‘Frequent locations’ which keeps a record of the places you have visited and measures the frequency of your visits. Location data may be useful in critical situations - such as finding a users last known location if they are missing, or finding a lost device. However for those wanting to keep their known location private, tracking features can be disabled.
Your photo gallery is no longer 100% secure once backed-up or shared with services such as iCloud or Google Photos. Saving your pictures to the cloud means you can prevent any loss if your phone is stolen or you accidentally delete your data. However the risk of exposure is more significant. In 2014, the iCloud accounts of a number of high profile celebrities were hacked, giving criminals access to their personal photos - many of which were highly sensitive in nature.
The voice technology that enables us to easily communicate with our smart assistants, such as Siri and Google, can transcribe and transmit every conversation we have with them. Also, there are some trigger words which they may pick up on, storing some data points if you are talking about a product that you like, for instance.
Information stored by apps
Some of the personal information recorded on your phone is often shared with third-party apps when you download them to your device. Installed apps usually have access to data relating to the type of device used; contact number, email, call logs, internet data, location data, the unique IDs or IP addresses, and more. The risk of being involved in a data breach as a result of using a smartphone increases as high percentages of phone numbers (63%) and device locations are usually leaked from third-party apps.
Why so much data?
The main reason smartphone providers record our data is so that they can use it for improving their products software updates and bug fixes, therefore enhancing the user experience. However, some technology companies may use your personal information to study consumer behaviour and generate algorithms to target ads more effectively.
What you can do to protect yourself
Keep your software up-to-date
Whether you are using iOS or Android, the operating system must be constantly updated as it provides bug fixes for vulnerabilities that may lead to a hack or data breach. If your device isn’t set up to automatically download updates do not ignore notifications - software should be updated as soon as a new version is available.
Be cautious when downloading apps
There are around 24,000 malicious mobile apps blocked every day. It is hard to predict whether the apps present any vulnerabilities, but you can do the minimum research and read user generated reviews from the app store before downloading it to your phone.
What is more, you should stop clicking 'I agree' before actually reading privacy policies and giving apps access to your data. Sometimes they can be very complex and complicated, but there are apps that can do it for you - so no excuse. Unfortunately, deleting apps after you have installed them doesn’t retract the data you have shared with them so it’s best to be wary before you agree to an app processing your data.
Avoid falling victim to scams
Social Engineering is one of the biggest threats facing consumers. Research suggests that people are far more likely to click on malicious URLs from their smartphones than on their PC. Give more considerable attention to the link and do not disclose any personal or financial data until you have confirmed the validity of the site. You can quickly go online and check for scams or search for more information about the company. New phishing campaigns are created every day which may involve texts, phone calls, emails, pictures. Thus, remain vigilant and carefully analyse any incoming communication.
Stay off of Open Wi-FI networks
Try to avoid connecting your phone to public Wi-fi networks, as some of them may be compromised and your phone may be susceptible to malware and hacking attempts, which allows cybercriminals to access your credit card details or passwords. Recently, some vulnerabilities were detected in routers used in large venues such as airports or hotels, for instance.
Enable ‘Find my phone’ option
As our phone is the central source of our personal and financial information, having it stolen or lost may cause a significant inconvenience to your personal life. To be able to track your phone or remove your data from a distance can save you from various troubles. You can do that by enabling the remote wiping feature on your phone, which is known as ‘Find My Phone’ for iOS users.
Last but not least, make sure you follow our Facebook and Twitter pages, where we keep you up-to-date on key hacks, breaches and scams. This month we’ll share a number of tips for National Cyber Security Awareness month! #BeCyberSmart