Mobile Security Survey Says Smartphone Users Get Sloppy During Holidays

It's the holiday season and that means most people are taking time off to enjoy the festivities with family and friends. Rare, however, is the employee these days who can take a week or two off at a time without having to check in at least occasionally at the office.

And these days, this checking in is often done via a smartphone or other mobile device. Whether it's to check email, send a text message or review the early fourth-quarter sales and earnings projections, employees at all levels of their organizations are relying more and more on mobile devices as their umbilical cord to work.

This fact has not gone unnoticed by online hackers and thieves, particularly those who specialize in a variety of holiday-based scams designed to separate mobile users from their cash and invade their privacy.

Security software vendor Symantec (NASDAQ: SYMC) released the results of a new survey of mobile users' behavior and attention to security during the holiday season.

The good news is that most people finally are locking their devices when they're not in use and have set up passwords to access their iPhones, Droids, etc. if they happen to get stolen or misplaced.

Unfortunately, however, Symantec's survey found that only 18 percent of respondents said that they pay any attention to the license agreements included with the dozens of mobile applications they download. It's especially troubling, security researchers said, because most of these downloads are done in public or while using unsecured WiFi connections, giving hackers ample opportunities to swipe critical login and network password data for future use.

"Our hope was that even more smartphone users are paying closer attention to the data and services they are giving apps permission to access," Spencer Parkinson, a security analyst at Symantec, wrote in a blog post. "With mobile devices, downloading a new app is almost done without any thought at all, it has become second nature."

This is particularly risky considering most smartphones have built-in GPS technology that, if used in chorus with a nefarious app, could reveal a user's location in real time.

"Thus, because an app could potentially track a users’ geo-location by having access to the phone’s GPS, personal safety becomes a real concern, especially if a user doesn’t even know they are giving that information away," Parkinson added.

The survey found that the majority of smartphone users (62 percent) plan to use their devices to access sensitive data while they're out of the office. Whether it's in their cars, at the airport or waiting in line at the shopping mall, every connection with an enterprise network represents a potential threat to proprietary data.

"Mobile device users need to be aware of their surroundings and the potential criminals lurking over their shoulder dying for a sneak peek at those employee social security numbers or that network username and password," the report said.

Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed said they are most concerned about their device being stolen or loss while malware and SMS phishing was most feared by 23 percent and 9 percent, respectively.

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


security, smartphones, hackers, malware, mobile devices