Wise up about smartphone security

(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

I it’s safe to say we are all a lot more clued-up when it comes to online security than we were a few years ago, but what about when it comes to our favourite little mini gadgets?

Kiwis are keen on smartphones, tablets and the like, but according to the security gurus at Symantec, we aren’t so quick to keep them safe.

This year’s annual Norton Report on the world of online nasties was released yesterday and shows that there is “a general lack of security awareness when it comes to using mobile devices”.

The number of us who became cybercrime victims increased to one million, but while the global cost is up, the cost in New Zealand is down from $462 million last year to $152m this year.

Symantec New Zealand country manager Michelle Amery says this is because the crims have changed their methods, most likely as Kiwis become more aware of the scams.

The company believes online scammers are also working on the theory that it is better to take smaller amounts of money from a larger group of people because they have more chance of flying under the radar.

Whatever the explanation behind the numbers, the fact that these online parasites are still making money is a worry:

The report also says 27 per cent of New Zealand survey respondents had experienced mobile cybercrime during the past year, up from 16 per cent in 2012, and about one in five of us have managed to lose our mobile device. Ouch.

Add to that the fact that the cybercrims are embracing mobile devices every bit as enthusiastically as the rest of us – developing mobile-specific malware and scams and taking advantage of all those lost and stolen phones – and users who are either unaware or unwilling to protect themselves and you have what Symantec calls a “perfect storm for cybercriminals”.

Security is every bit as important for your smartphone or tablet as it is for your computer, especially if you are using that smartphone or tablet as it was intended: to do your banking, check your emails and generally live your online life.

Another worrying trend for Kiwis in the report is that we are taking major risks online when it comes to social media and “blurring the lines between their work and personal devices”.

Great, now I’ve got that damned song stuck in my brain and a vision of Miley Cyrus waggling her foam finger and other things.

But I digress. The Norton Report says 39 per cent of us are using our personal devices (desktop computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets) for work-related activities and nearly half of those surveyed say their company does not have policies in place for using personal devices for work.

Symantec Pacific region product marketing manager David Hall says that creates new risks for businesses because “cybercriminals have the potential to access even more valuable information”.

But wait, there’s more: we aren’t even very good at protecting our own personal data. Just more than a quarter of those surveyed connect with people they do not know on social media and one in four share their social media passwords with others. Yes, really: we are sharing our passwords. Well, I’m not, but someone out there is and they need to stop. It’s a really, really, incredibly stupid thing to do, so stop it!

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