Mobile device security highlighted during Security Awareness Month

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 | 7:18 p.m. CDT; updated 9:07 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, October 11, 2011

COLUMBIA—Even when your mobile device is securely in your hand, the data on it may still be compromised, said Mike Harris, an MU security analyst.

Consumers' mobile devices are as vulnerable to hacking, spyware and malware as personal computers, he said.


The MU Division of Information Technology recommends the following steps to help secure your mobile devices and minimize risks.

For smart phones:

  • Enable a password or pattern to lock the screen.
  • Be careful of the types of applications being downloaded by making sure they are from reputable sources. Read reviews and recommendations before buying or downloading.
  • Do not loan out your phone to people you do not trust.
  • Disable Bluetooth capabilities when it not in using it.
  • Do not set repetitive numbers or letters as your password.
  • Set the phone to lock after a few minute of inactivity.

With flash drive devices, the following is recommended:

  • Limit the use of flash drives to minimize risk.
  • Attach your flash drive to a keychain, lanyard or employee ID card to prevent losing it.
  • Label the device with your contact information.
  • Report the loss of any device with your workplace.
  • Protect your device with a password when needed.

Source: MU Division of Information Technology

As part of Security Awareness Month, MU's Division of Information Technology is presenting seminars to inform people about securing devices, such as computers and other information devices.

The next seminar the Division of IT will host is scheduled for 2 p.m. Oct. 19. 

According to software security company Sophos' Naked Security blog, 70 percent of users don't protect their phones with passwords, while 22 percent report losing their phones.

Securing a smartphone device begins with setting up a password. Mixing up at least eight characters with numbers, symbols, uppercase and lowercase letters to create a strong password is important.

Passwords should not be a string of repetitive numbers or letters. Locking the device after a few minutes also helps to prevent use by other people.

Harris recommended smartphones be password-protected or have a pattern to lock the screen when not in use.

"It's largely just a computer in your pocket," he said of smartphones.

Installing a device-locating application or data-scrubbing program is useful in case a phone is lost or stolen.

Connecting phones to computers or laptops can bypass security despite being locked by a password. Harris said iPhones should use virtual private networks when possible.

Disabling Bluetooth capabilities on Android phones when not in use is also important, since other users' devices can detect it. Consumers need to make sure information backed up from Android phones is in a secure location, especially when transferring data to a personal computer or laptop.

Mobile device users also need to beware of Wi-Fi connections in public places, especially when dealing with sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers, credit card numbers and other information that can identify individuals or facilitate identity theft, Harris said.

For other mobile devices, such as laptops or iPads, running various programs such as posting up a firewall, installing antivirus and antitheft programs will help secure information. Keeping the most up-to-date versions is also important so that sensitive data is not leaked.

"People don't think (security) applies to mobile devices, but it does," said Kristy White, an MU system security analyst. "It's a first line of defense."

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