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Smartphone shopping carries more risk

December 07, 2011 12:00AM

In one recent survey, nearly half of smartphone and wireless tablet users said they planned to use their devices to do some online Christmas shopping. That’s a strategy that could be risky, according to Angela Neria, chief information officer at Pittsburg State University.

Recently, Neria shared a number of technology tips with the campus community that she hopes will help employees reduce their online risks. Number two on her list was “Avoid purchasing items from your smartphone, if possible.”

Neria said the higher risk associated with smartphones and tablets stems from the fact that anti virus protection for these devices is not as advanced as it is for PCs.

“It’s easy to do your shopping on your smartphone, and that’s certainly one of the attractions of the device for consumers,” Neria said. “But if you can, it is safer to wait until you can make your purchase from a PC with up-to-date anti-virus software over a secure network.”

Neria and other technology experts have raised caution flags as the use of smartphones and tablets for e-commerce has more than doubled in just the past year. Predictably, cybercriminals have seen new opportunities and technology experts say the holiday shopping season is the perfect time for them to try out their new weapons.

Although PC attacks have been around for many years, Neria said, smartphone viruses are a less common, but rapidly growing phenomenon.

“The smartphone viruses are most likely to come in the form of downloaded apps,” Neria said. “Once installed, these malicious viruses have the ability to take control of your phone, track your activity, transmit personal information and even send unwanted text messages.”

One real concern, Neria said, is that so many people use their personal smartphones at work, where they connect to a corporate network that contains vast amounts of sensitive data. Accessing information in those networks may be the ultimate goal that drives some smartphone hackers, she said. 

Although attacks on smartphones and tablets are still in their infancy, Neria said, with the number of U.S. smartphone users at 90 million and growing, it is just a matter of time until they become as much of a target for cybercriminals as the familiar PC.

“It is always a game of staying one step ahead of the criminals,” Neria said. “For the user, that means being vigilant in keeping anti-virus software updated, using safe Internet practices, and a healthy dose of suspicion. If something doesn’t feel right or sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” 

Neria offered a few tips for smartphone users:

  • Downloaded applications and ringtones sometimes come with malicious viruses attached.  Always download such items from a reputable source.
  • Your cell phone very likely offers several layers of protection. Research your phone's capabilities and activate a password to your phone.  At a minimum, consider creating a password to your e-mail, social networking, and banking information that you may access through your phone. If your phone is lost or misplaced for a short time and this information is not protected, your identity could be at risk.
  • Phishing schemes can be executed through text messaging.  This is also known as SMSishing. These are text messages that appear to be legitimate from your bank and/or credit card company asking you for account information.  Never send such sensitive information via a text message.

©2011 Pittsburg State University