mobileThe recent discovery that the UK’s newspaper, “News of the World” had hacked into the voicemails of murder victims, relatives of soldiers killed in the Iraq War and the families of victims of the 7/7 London bombings, made everyone stop and think about social media and privacy, in particular, how safe is my mobile data?

Unless you have been hiding under a rock, you would have heard that the newspaper shut down in July of this year and senior executives and journalists from the paper and its parent company, News International, have since continued to resign, be arrested or called before parliament to explain their involvement.

As more and more social networking sites pop up (Google +  the most recent – see our introductory guide to it’s key features), and the average time spent on social networking sites via our mobile devices increases, are you aware of just how much information is stored on your smartphone? And are you confident that you know what you are sharing and to whom?

A recent study by analytics company Compete (www.complete.com) found that 43% of Twitter users and 34% of Facebook users access their accounts using their mobile devices.

Similarly, a study completed by TNS discovered that nearly a third of Brits (32%) with mobile phones visit all social networks from their handset – that’s 11 million Brits!

Furthermore, 16% of mobile phone owners say they access social networks from their handset every day.

So how can you protect that valuable information you store on your smartphone?

Here are a few tips to bear in mind regarding security;

Use Passwords

Yes this may seem obvious, but always password-protect your mobile and don’t choose a password that may be easy for others to guess.

Most phones can be set so it will automatically delete all information if the incorrect password is entered too many times in a row.  You can however retrieve this data from your computer – that is if you have been regularly synchronising.

Enable auto-lock

Enable your auto-lock feature so it will kick in after a minute or two. This will make sure no one can use the phone without having to enter your password.

Back it up

Only keep information you’ll need regularly in your phone. When syncing your phone, it will also automatically synchronise any notes you have in your contacts database, so don’t store important user names and passwords in these notes fields.

Make sure you keep a record of your data somewhere safe that includes the phone’s make, model, and serial number so if your phone is lost or stolen, you can quickly change your passwords.

Install a mobile tracking app

You might want to install a tracking application on your smartphone to enable you to track it.  Here are a few popular tracking apps;

iPhone – FoneHomeBar HeistMobileMe

BlackBerry – Berry Locator

Android –  Android LostWheres My Droid

Erase your personal data remotely

You can download an application that will allow you to remote access your smartphone from a PC.  That way you can remotely remove any confidential data stored on it.

Lock confidential applications

Another way to protect important data on your smartphone is to use an application locker.

They will prevent unauthorised access to applications that contain sensitive personal information, such as your messages, contacts, email and photos.

If someone finds or steals your phone, they cannot access these protected apps without the correct password, and if you had already downloaded a remote access app, you will also be able to remove any confidential data.

Think twice before jailbreaking your iphone

Some iPhone users jailbreak (or unlock) their phones so they can install applications Apple hasn’t approved…But be warned! This opens up your phone to substantial corruptions, such as viruses or internet scams. The only way to then remove these harmful software threats (or ‘malware’), is to wipe the phone’s memory and revert to its original factory settings. You may also be refused service by Apple if your phone is unlocked.

However, just because your iPhone is still locked, does not make you immune to nasty files. According to Apple, they reject more than 100 spyware-infested or phishing-laden applications every day (these are fake versions of real applications designed to steal your personal information).  The more sophisticated hackers get, the more malware about.

It has been estimated that worldwide smartphone sales will surpass PC sales worldwide by the end of 2011, but whether you’re using a mobile device or a PC, here are 10 tips to consider regarding your security on social networking sites in general:

1. Accept friend requests only from people you know personally

2. Think twice before you post

Remember, status updates, photos, videos and comments can reveal more about you than you may have intended.

For example, you may have heard some horror stories about people who had posted about their holiday only to find they had been burgled when they returned.

UK company Precreate Solutions has come up with a solution – for a small fee they will run “virtual updates” for their clients whilst away. Bear in mind also that geolocation applications share your exact location, also letting criminals know that you aren’t home.

thumb print_small3. Don’t provide too many details about you online

Try not to share too much personal information about yourself – things like your middle name, first pet’s name, the name of the street you grew up in, etc are often used by financial institutions to verify your identity.

4. Regularly check your privacy settings

The default settings for some sites may allow anyone to see your profile, but you can customise your settings to restrict access to only certain people. Some social networking sites have been known to change their options periodically, so review your security and privacy settings regularly to make sure you are still secure.

5.  Be wary of applications that request permission to access your data

Third party applications can make life easier, but bear in mind that when you accept, this means the party can obtain your email address, post to your wall, and can access your information at any time; even if you are no longer using the application.

You can however modify your settings to limit the amount of information the applications can access.

6. Be wary of fake links and apps

A great example of this was seen on Facebook; you may have seen a post that claimed to be able to tell you how many profile views you have had and by whom….this was a scam.

According to Facebook’s Help Centre;

“Facebook do not provide the ability to track who is viewing your profile, or parts of your profile, such as your photos. Applications by outside developers cannot provide this functionality, either. Applications that claim to give you this ability will be removed from Facebook for violating policy. You can report applications that provide untrustworthy experiences by clicking the “Report Application” at the bottom of the application’s About page, or by clicking “Report” at the bottom of any canvas page within the application.”

There are applications that may ask you for permission to access content from your News Feed and Wall to enable you to see which friends have interacted with posts ie, which friends liked or engaged with a particular post, but not those who have viewed your profile.

Also be cautious of any message, post, or link that looks suspicious.  This might be a link that requires an additional login or one that asks you to upgrade or download software – this could be an attempt to install malware that tracks and steals your data.

If you see anything suspicious, make sure you report it. You may also want to refer to security sections on the networks you use such as http://twitter.com/about/security to keep you up-to-date and aware of things to avoid.

7. Use updated browsers

Older browsers tend to have more security flaws.

8. Use strong passwords

As with your smartphone, use passwords that can’t be easily guessed. Also consider choosing unique logins and passwords for each of the social networking sites you use.

9.  Keep an eye out on the url

Check the url to make sure that you are actually logging into a legitimate website. So if you’re visiting a page on Facebook, make sure the URL ends in facebook.com. For example, “en-gb.facebook.com”.

10. Make sure your security software is up to date

Make sure it includes the works – antivirus, anti-spyware, anti-spam, a firewall, and a website safety advisor.

Overall, the benefits of social media far outweigh these negatives.  If you do think you have been affected, change your password immediately, delete posts/uninstall the app, inform the website administrator that you suspect a post is spam, and run a virus scan on your computer.

To find out more about how your business can make the most of all that social media has to offer, contact us today…