Raleigh, N.C. — These days, Americans are more connected than ever before. Many people never leave home without a cell phone. Experts warn that those who carry so-called "smart phones" may be unknowingly putting their personal information at risk.
Mobile devices with Internet access open users to the same security risks familiar to computer users. Someone can secretly tap into a phone and make calls or send texts billed to the account holder.
For years, experts have warned about computer security. Now, that same caution translates to the latest cell phones.
Raleigh telecommunications expert Ben Levitan said security software hasn't yet caught up with the explosion in newer, more feature-laden phones.
“It’s basically the merging of computers and telephones,” he said. “All of a sudden we're finding out that people, just like computers, are attacking our phones."
Those attacks can come from benign sources.
“They're not malicious Web sites, but they can be used maliciously,” Levitan said.
For instance, many legitimate cell phone Web sites allow texts to be sent by using an online form. The forms typically do not verify that the person sending the text actually owns the phone.
Then, there's the matter of eavesdropping, which is sometimes made possible by malicious software, or malware, readily available online.
That same malware could also take advantage of the global positioning system, or GPS, feature on the phone to track a user's every move. A hacker need not have physical contact with your phone to do so.
Wiretapping is a federal crime. Levitan said it's fine to jump on the technology bandwagon, just beware that someone could try to outsmart your "smart phone."
There are ways to limit your vulnerability.
- Don't accept a phone from someone you don't trust.
- Beware of unknown downloads, such as pictures or applications, because they could contain malware.
- If you're suspicious, take your phone to the cell provider to get it reflashed or reprogrammed.