Cell phone hacks a precursor to security breaches

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Don McGran will lead a seminar on cyber security at Wilton Library.

Identity theft is no stranger to Wilton. Nor are online security breaches and cyber attacks.

The Wilton Library will try to help in that regard Wednesday, March 7, with a talk on Cyber Security Essentials by Don McGran.

The informative and eye-opening seminar, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., will teach people people what to look for, and how to protect themselves from cyber-attacks that can wreak havoc with one’s identity and money.  McGran is a 30-year veteran of the Ridgefield Police Department, where he retired at the rank of major. He is now the security adviser for Fairfield County Bank. The program is sponsored by the library and Fairfield County Bank. Registration is recommended.

The Connecticut Better Business Bureau (BBB) has a similar warning. It recommends that smart device users devote as much time and money to protect their mobile phones and tablets as they do their personal computers.
Aggressive malware developers are working diligently to discover ways to get malicious software inside mobile devices, according to the BBB. Some smartphone owners are making it easy for hackers by failing to take even the most basic precautions.

“We have a tendency to consider our mobile devices primarily as telephones,” said Howard Schwartz, spokesman for the BBB, based in Cromwell. “A more accurate view is that a smartphone is really a portable computer that is capable of making telephone calls. Too many smart device users don’t understand or worry about existing and potential new threats to personal and financial information stored in their smartphones and tablet devices.”

According to one estimate, more than half of smart device users don’t even use a password to lock their phones as they would with their personal computers, Schwartz said. Unlike with home-based computers, some of people’s most important information is carried with them on their smart devices.


“Our phones and tablets are exposed to even more threats in a public setting outside of our homes,” he said.  

One risk involves using mobile phones in a growing number of locations that offer complimentary wi-fi hotspots such as stores, malls, coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, and airports. Cyber thieves use these hotspots that are often not password-protected to burrow into the phones and tablets.

Hackers want this information because people store their login and password combinations, banking and other personal information on their smart devices. Texts and emails also can reveal personal information that could be used for fraud or to commit identity theft.

Some mobile phones also contain payment apps that are linked to credit cards.


Smart devices are not immune to viruses and malware, Schwartz warned.

“Researchers have found malware in smart devices similar to what they would detect in a personal computer,” he said.

One example is “ransomware.” Ransomware manifests itself as a pop-up screen that locks the device and scrambles its contents. The screen will have a telephone number to call to pay the ransom to receive a decryption key to restore access to the files. BBB and law enforcement recommend against paying the ransom because there is no guarantee the hackers will hold up their end of the deal, nor restore all of the data on the phone, he said. The best thing to do is regularly back up the smart device.

The BBB recommends:

  • Investing in a security suite including anti-malware and virus protection.
  • Storing important personal information somewhere else. There are apps that allow you to store passwords and other sensitive information in a remote location accessible from your phone or tablet.
  • Turning off services unless you need them. Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth all represent open doors for hackers. If you turn them on only when you need them, your device will be safer, and it will also increase battery life.
  • Downloading and applying updates.
  • Erasing your tracks in a rented vehicle. If you connect your smartphone into a vehicle’s USB port, the entertainment system will have access to a considerable amount of information. When you bring back the car, make sure you delete your profile. Ask for help if you are not sure how to do so. If you want to charge your phone, it is safer to plug it into the vehicle’s lighter socket.

 

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