There is a lot of worry on the mobile front this month it seems. Earlier this month cloud computing took a hit when it looked like T-Mobile Sidekick users may have lost their data and contact information due to a server crash. Fortunately that story had a mostly happy ending. And yesterday I wrote that the World Health Organization released the findings of a 10-year study that found a potential link between heavy mobile phone usage and brain tumors.
Most recently, this week CNN.com ran a story that highlights the growing threats to mobile phones, notably smartphones. This makes sense on the one hand. Mobile smartphones are designed to be mini-computers and are used very much like computers. We download applications, we surf Web sites and we open attachments. The problem says the article, to which this reporter agrees, is that while we do these things we’re still using the handset as we would a phone – in other words without a care in the world. Consider that today most of us are cautious about opening an attachment from a friends or colleagues that says, “check out this cute picture.”
On our desktop PC, getting such an attachment usually results – or at least should result – in a response to the sender asking if this was intentionally sent. But getting the attachment on the mobile phone means pressing “view” as soon as possible! So I agree whole-heartedly with the advice from CNN, which essentially says to treat your smartphone like a computer and not a telephone.
Some tips I would add:
- Download apps from reputable sites, notably the official app store. Whether it is Apple, Palm, Microsoft, Google or Research in Motion, most (if not all apps) go through a screening process.
- Should you hear about a third party app that isn’t available on the app stores, do some research to make sure you’re downloading a virus, Trojan Horse or other malware.
- Back up your data and contact information if possible.
- Be cautious of using Bluetooth in public areas – while attacks remain slim, there are concerns that this sends an “open” gateway to one’s phone.
And CNN also points out some good news. Most viruses are written for Windows because that’s the most dominant operating system for desktops. With mobile devices there are multiple operating systems available and this makes it harder for those with bad intentions to do as much harm. But the most important thing is to remain on guard when downloading apps and files, as the threat could possibly grow.
Finally, I would add that users should get a protective or padded sleeve for the handset because while digital attacks are a major concern, dropping a smartphone can do a lot more damage. And watch your device closely. Smartphones, as with all mobile handsets, are much easier to steal than laptops. They’re also easy to misplace or just plain lose. They can be lifesavers when you need them, but you need to treat these devices with respect.