What's New in Technology for November 2011

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Technology: Protect Yourself From Cell Phone Hackers

Cell phone hacking caused the downfall of The News of the World, Britain’s largest and most famous tabloid. This scandal has alerted cell phone users to the mayhem that hackers can create. An ever-increasing problem for the telecommunications industry, cell phone hacking no longer happens only to people in the public eye. More and more ordinary citizens are falling prey to fraudsters who regard mobile communications as a fruitful opportunity for scams. As many cell phone users have discovered, it is often a relatively simple matter to hack a cell phone.

How do hackers crack our cell phone passwords? Often we make it fairly easy for them by using the same password at other – less secure – sites. The hackers break into these easier targets and then try the passwords on bigger sites. Sometimes hackers launch a full frontal attack – programming computers to bombard sites with just about every word in the dictionary until they hit the right combination.

As many people discovered in the wake of The News of the World scandal, often it takes only a modicum of tech savvy for a crook to get access to the information stored in your phone. Here are a few tips to help safeguard your data.

  • Protect your phone and keypad with passwords that are strong. Make them long and difficult for thieves to guess. Use different passwords from those you use for your financial accounts, and never program passwords into your cell phone. If you use Gmail, make use of Google’s two-step verification procedure. This means you need to supply an access code (from your mobile phone) if you try to access your account from any place other than your own computer. The access code needed for your computer is a password that you change every 30 days. Though no solution is fail-safe, this two-step verification process can protect you from the thousands of remote attacks hackers launch every day.  
  • Develop a practical way to manage the many passwords you need to access the various online sites. Use letter/number combinations that are meaningful to you, but not so obvious that a hacker can guess them correctly. Avoid words that might be guessed in a major attack – using a misspelled word or gibberish will give you a stronger password. Keeping a hard copy of your passwords in a desk drawer is a bad idea, and keeping them stored on your cell phone is even worse. Have different passwords for all the sites you use that hold important, confidential data. Make sure your voicemail password is strong, too. Perhaps you think crooks can’t cause much harm with access to your messages, but don’t be so sure. Fraudsters have gained access to bank accounts this way.
  • Some phones will lock out any entry after the phone has been idle for awhile. Check to see if your phone has this feature. If your phone is stolen, this lock out will stop a thief from accessing your data.
  • Don’t keep important data in your smart phone for indefinite periods of time. When hackers take over or compromise an email account, the data is lost to the user – often permanently. Sometimes resetting your password and logging back into your account doesn’t let you access the information you left there earlier. It’s gone. If you have important correspondence, attached files or photos on your smart phone, save backup copies somewhere else.
  • Be smart about downloads. Only use downloads from a reputable seller. Beware of pop-ups or unsolicited notices warning you of an impending problem. Download a so-called antivirus solution, and chances are good that the download will infect your phone.

Vigilance is the best way to protect yourself. Don’t get lazy about passwords or complacent about backing up data you keep on your cell phone. Above all, take advantage of all the safeguards and password protection programs that are made available to you.


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