As smartphones and other mobile devices become more ubiquitous in our society, so does the proliferation of wireless hotspots that provide us with online access wherever we might be. And no matter how well you’ve secured your preferred device, you’re taking a chance any time you connect to a public access point, given that so much of our data—including anything you’re accessing from that wireless access point—is stored in a mobile-computing cloud environment.
It should come as no surprise that experts in mobile security are in high demand. In fact, cloud computing will create nearly 14 million jobs by 2015[i]—and by 2020, jobs that help protect the cloud, like information systems security analyst positions, will be up 22%.[ii]
We spoke with Bryan Bechard, visiting professor at DeVry University, College of Engineering & Information Sciences, to find out what everyone should know the next time they consider connecting to a wireless hotspot with their computer or smartphone.
“If you aren’t using a known access point, you don’t know who may be listening in,” Bechard says. “Unless you’re at home, assume that anything you do on your smartphone may be intercepted.” Using your cellular signal instead of Wi-Fi is a more secure option, he explains, owing to the difficulty of “spoofing” a cellular network. “With many carriers now limiting data, smartphone users are setting up Wi-Fi to activate automatically whenever a hotspot is available. This leaves smartphone owners vulnerable when they don’t even realize it.”
Don’t Let “Portable” = “Vulnerable”
“People tend not to put as much security around their smartphones as they do around their computers,” Bechard observes. “If a device has access to any of your personal or company data, protect the data as if it were stored on the device itself.”
Make sure you follow the steps in this chart (How to Protect Yourself) to avoid having strangers access your personal information.
“Sniffing is when your information is transmitted in the clear and can be picked out of the air,” Bechard explains. “Spoofing,” he notes, “is when a hotspot claims to be a trusted connection and is actually set up by a cyber attacker. Both of these result in your data being compromised because the attacker can read and manipulate it.”
Improve the security of your data with the protective actions in this chart (How to Improve Security).
Make It Hacker-Proof
“Avoid keeping confidential data or otherwise sensitive information on a mobile device, because the device is more likely to be lost or stolen than a computer, and it is less likely that you’ll be able to encrypt your data,” Bechard says. “Keep software up to date, as mobile devices are now subject to direct attacks, both from malware (viruses) specific to a type of mobile device and from attempts to trick people into some desired action.”
If you prefer to check e-mail without entering your username and password, make sure to require a password to “unlock” the device. Insisting that a password be entered after a certain period of inactivity is also a good idea, as it prevents people from reading passwords that are texted to your phone.
The Future Is Now
“Today everyone has a computer in his or her pocket and access to more computing power than what was used to launch the first space shuttle,” Bechard says. “It has gone from a single piece of technology on a desk to a vast universe of apps and big data. Those who have the drive and the know-how can find the cracks in the rules to make a quick buck by taking it from you and transferring it to them.”
And with the speed at which new systems and devices are hitting the market, consumers are shouldering more of the responsibility for keeping their private information safe. While the advice provided here will certainly increase the security of your data, the constantly evolving nature of the industry means that experts who can keep up with the pace of cloud computing and cyber security advancements are in high demand—and our desire to put the power of the Internet in the palm of our hand ensures that won’t change anytime soon.