Saturday, July 6, 2013

Privacy and Smartphones

I feel a bit naive starting with the definition of a smartphone. A recent infographic by the Lebanese carrier "Touch" posted on their facebook page shows that 82.66 % of people using their mobile service are using either a Blackberry, an Iphone or an Andriod phone.

Anyways, a Smartphone is a small handheld electronic device that has features of both a mobile phone and a computer. This device allows us to communicate voice, text, and video, along with sending pictures, sending emails, managing bank accounts, and sharing locations.

Similar to PCs and Laptops, smartphones are currently equipped with powerful processors providing the user with high computing power. Yet unlike ordinary PCs and laptops, smartphone are always in our hand or in our pockets, their small size and easy mobility makes them man's best friend.

Privacy is a major concern to smartphone users; No matter what they do, there will always be seen and unseen pitfalls that may lead to the loss of privacy

Privacy Compromised:

Service Provider

By using a mobile phone, you can rest assured that your service provider is by default retaining log files that include:  
  • Incoming and outgoing calls: the phone numbers you call, the numbers that you receive calls from, and the duration of the call;
  • Incoming and outgoing text messages: the phone numbers you send texts to and receive texts from;
  • How often you check your e-mail or access the Internet;
  • Your location. (GPS / Cell usage)

In addition to the default data collected by your Smartphone service provider, you should also be aware of the possible privacy issues surrounding the collection or disclosure of:

  • Any photos or video you take on your phone;
  • The contacts you have stored in your phone;
  • Passwords;
  • Financial data;
  • What you store in your phone's calendar;

Picture Geo-tags

Depending on the brand and settings, your smartphone can use its built-in GPS capability to embed your exact location into the file of photos you take using the smartphone’s camera, this process is called geotagging. If you happen to share any geotagged picture, people can use the geotag to track your movements or find out where you live. 


Malware is malicious software that poses a threat to your smartphone just as it does to your computer. The apps on your smartphone are a rich environment for transmitting malware. Some malware care about stealing money (financial), other malware are concerned only with collecting data and transmitting it to a remote receiver.

Free Apps and Advertisers 

There are hundreds of thousands of applications for smartphones across all platforms, anyone can create an app. Most of these applications are free, free means cost free and not risk free. These apps can collect all sorts of data and transmit it to the app-maker and/or third-party advertisers. It can then be shared or sold.  Most free applications contain ads, to customize these ads up to the user preferences, personal date should be collected from the user‘s smartphone.

The privacy concern here is that information captured could be used to build a complete profile about you without your knowledge or approval.

Protect yourself 

1- Limit others' physical access to your Smartphone

A person who gains access to your smartphone can see all your private stuff or even worse they can physically install a malware capable of collecting data and then discretely transmit this data to other parties.

So in order to decrease the risk of privacy loss via physical access to your smartphone you should:
  • Password protect your phone
  • Do not allow your smartphone to automatically remember login passwords for access to email, VPN, and other accounts;
  • Use your phone’s security lockout feature. Set the phone to automatically lock after a certain amount of time not in use;
  • Install security software that allows you to remotely lock your phone and wipe the data;
  • Never leave your phone unattended. 

2- Usage of Public Wi-Fi Networks

When your smartphone uses a public Wi-Fi network to connect to the Internet (eg. coffee shop), it may be possible for others to “see” the data being transmitted by your smartphone so: 

  • Avoid the usage of untrusted public Wi-Fi networks 
  • If not possible, when using public and untrusted Wi-Fi networks. Do not conduct activities that use sensitive information such as mobile banking.

3- Mobile Security Software

Many individuals take great care to protect their computers with security software, but forget to do the same with their smartphones. Products from Eset, AVG, and McAfee may be able to:

  • Protect your smartphone against malware,
  • Back up your smartphone data, store data elsewhere
  • Track your phone if it is lost or stolen;
  • Lock your phone remotely, and wipe your data remotely.

4- Applications

Install applications only from trusted application sources. Read carefully what the application is trying to access before you install / use it, and only then decide whether to use this application or not. 

To most of us, the smartphones are the last thing we put from our hand before we sleep and the first thing we check when we wake up in the morning.  I think they deserve a little more caution on our part. 

Read more about Mobile Security

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