Smartphone users need to wise up on security

13 Jan 2011

Smartphone users are risking the security of their identities if they store sensitive information on their phones and use unsecured Wi-Fi networks, new research has revealed.

New research from ProtectMyID, the identity protection service of Experian, shows that nearly two-thirds (65pc) of smartphone users send and store emails on their phones – including sensitive information like receipts and credit card details from online shopping.

More than half (53pc) of smartphone users access social-networking sites from their phones. This could easily reveal key pieces of information like names, dates of birth and other details commonly used as passwords for online banking and other accounts, such as first school or place of birth.

Nearly one-third (29pc) of smartphone users take advantage of public Wi-Fi hotspots (often found in city centres, used whilst having a break from the shops) which are unsecure and highly vulnerable to electronic eavesdroppers.

Of these, one in five (19pc) say they conduct online banking while using public Wi-Fi, risking their accounts, PINs and passwords.

Mobile phone identity fraud

The UK Home Office found that mobile phone identity fraud rose by three-quarters (74pc) in the first half of last year but more than half of the smartphone users who took part in the survey were completely unaware of the problem.

“The personal information on an average smartphone is like gold dust to an ID thief and many of us could be putting this on a plate by using public Wi-Fi networks,” said Peter Turner, managing director of Experian Interactive.

“A criminal can use this information to masquerade as the phone’s owner, drain his or her accounts, run up debts in their victim’s name and even open new accounts.

“Often, the first people know about it is when they receive a demand for payment for services they haven’t used or for an account they have never heard of. We’ve certainly seen cases where criminals have changed the address of the smartphone, ordered new handsets and run up huge bills,” Turner added.

As many as 10,000 smartphones are also stolen every month, according to the Metropolitan Police.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years