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Consumer Watch: Protect your cell

Be wary of viruses, spyware on your mobile devices

Jan. 10, 2013 - 04:48PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 10, 2013 - 04:48PM  |  
(U.S. Army)
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As we become increasingly dependent on mobile devices for everything from driving directions to shopping, it never hurts to stay mindful of the need to protect our personal information.

With mobile devices, there's an extra layer of concern because you carry the device with you — and if it's lost or stolen, someone else could easily get access to your information. Some things to think about:

• Secure your mobile devices the same way you secure your personal computer. Install anti-virus and anti-spyware protection and a firewall, the Federal Trade Commission advises. Update these protections often.

Your anti-virus software should have malware scanner capability and the ability to detect malicious websites, said Tom Shaw, vice president of financial crimes management for USAA. It should be able to do application audits — seeing what private information is being collected through your apps.

• Make sure you have the ability to do a remote wipe of your device, so that you can erase information such as contacts and emails to prevent someone from seeing or using the information if your device is lost or stolen. If you have an Apple device, go to http://support.apple.com/kb/PH2701">http://support.apple.com/kb/PH2701 to find out how to set this up.

• Be careful about sending personal information using wireless networks in public places. If the network is not secure, your device could be compromised, Shaw said. The FTC notes that encrypted websites protect only the information you send to and from that site; a secure wireless network protects all the information you send on that network.

• Don't open files, click on links or download programs sent by strangers. This could expose your system to a computer virus or spyware that could capture your passwords or other information. We've all gotten those "smishing" messages — phishing with SMS texts — say, someone claiming to offer you a $100 gift card. But that's just an evil attempt to get you to fork over personal information. Sometimes even friends can inadvertently send you viruses or spyware, so if something doesn't seem right, don't click.

• Be careful when downloading apps. Make sure they're from a trusted source, Shaw says. The App Store and Google Play state who provides a particular app. Shaw suggests also looking at the app's ratings — if they're bad, that's an indication that other users may have been affected by malware.

• Be careful of what information you put on social networks. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number or account numbers. "I'm surprised at how many people send notification that their birthday is today," Shaw said, because birthdays are used for so many purposes, such as applying for accounts.

• If you use your mobile device for banking, check with your financial institution about what it offers for protection. For example, USAA has a program that allows you to log in to usaa.com with a four-digit personal identification number, and USAA's system lets USAA know that you're logging on from a device that has been registered.

If someone is trying to log on from a device that hasn't been previously registered, that person will have to answer some "shared secret" questions that you've identified, such as the name of your childhood best friend.

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