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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Being smart about our smartphones

A well-known security software company raised a few eyebrows last year when it declared that smartphones – specifically those running Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android – posed less of a security risk than PCs. Although smartphones travel more, making them easier to lose, their operating systems and encryption tools make them less vulnerable to viruses and other malware.

That doesn’t mean that smartphones are secure. The same company also reported that they had cataloged over 200 security vulnerabilities in iOS and Android, a number that will surely grow as smartphones rely more and more on data streamed to and from the cloud.

There are three ways in which we use smartphones that greatly add to their vulnerability. First, we are obsessed with apps. U.S. smartphone and tablet owners broke all kinds of records towards the end of 2011, passing the half billion mark in weekly downloads. While most of these apps are harmless, many of them contain viruses and other security flaws. That’s particularly the case with apps from the Android Market, which is more open and unregulated than Apple’s App Store.

Secondly, we tend to share more with our smartphones, thinking nothing of uploading and downloading content and clicking on links, whether we have verified the source or not. Social networking sites have made a big push into mobile, and location-sharing adds another layer of vulnerability.

Finally, there is our tendency to jump on any open network, even if we are experiencing only a temporary problem with our 3G or 4G connection. In fact, many smartphones owners leave their Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections open all the time, making us extra vulnerable to viruses or data theft.

Application security firm Veracode recently published an infographic, which details the various security vulnerabilities of iOS and Android smartphones. They also point out that while both Apple and Google have made strides in limiting the security issues in later versions of their OS, many of these updates are not available for older devices, so millions of smartphone users remain exposed.

So what can smartphone owners do to protect themselves? Well, Veracode has some suggestions there too. Here is their list of 10 ways in which we can improve our mobile security:

  • Regularly change phone and voicemail passwords.
  • Use passwords and pin numbers that are hard for others to guess.
  • Set your phone so that it is password protected after 5 minutes of inactivity.
  • Only enable wireless networks/connections that you are going to use. If you don’t use a Bluetooth device, then don’t turn Bluetooth on!
  • Only install applications from vendors that you trust. Check out app reviews and app-sources before installing.
  • Use mobile security software.
  • Use mobile device management software.
  • Back up your data.
  • Don’t view sensitive information on public W-Fi.
  • Install OS updates as soon as they are available to ensure your smartphone firmware is up-to-date.

The Online Mom recommends Kaspersky Mobile Security.

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