AMU Cyber & AI Homeland Security Opinion Privacy

Data Breaches: How Vulnerable Are We in the Mobile World?

By Dennis Backherms
Faculty Member, School of STEM at American Public University

Mobile computing has changed how we live, communicate and share with each other. Through the drive for constant innovation, our mobile electronic devices can now do things that used to require rows of computers to accomplish.

We are now all familiar with the slogan “There’s an app for that,” quickly prompting us to search the mobile marketplace for more helpful tools. Mobile applications make our lives easier and more efficient; we can deposit a check into the bank, order tonight’s dinner, and find the nearest gas station.

It truly is a great time to be mobile, but how safe are we? Why do we keep hearing about data breaches involving large companies such as Target, Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase and—just this week—Dairy Queen? What about security on our mobile devices?

Many consumers want to know how to protect themselves so as not to fall victim to mobile theft of any kind. The following advice will help.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like going to the bank to deposit a check. Good thing there is an app for that! Most banks allow customers to download a free banking app that allows you to perform some of the most basic banking functions such as checking account balances, making deposits and transferring funds.

Basically, the app is a portal that allows you to log into your bank account and perform these various tasks. Remote deposits are made by taking a picture of the front and back of a check and designating the account you want the money deposited into.

In order to protect yourself, make sure you always log out of the app. Don’t just close it. When you close the app without logging out, it still runs in the background to allow quicker loading for when you want to use the app again, leaving the portal open into your bank account. While many websites will automatically log you out after a period of inactivity, the same is sometimes not true on mobile devices.

In fact, vulnerabilities in mobile programming code make hacking into these mobile accounts much easier than hacking into the same accounts on a computer. For these reasons, it is always best practice to log out of the app.

Social Media
Our intent in sharing photos or videos on social channels is to keep current with our network of friends online, but these same photos and videos can actually be used against us. The photos or videos we take with our mobile devices contain hidden information on time, date and location. This hidden information, called metadata, is visible to anyone that knows how to access it. To keep yourself safe, disable geotagging on your mobile devices.

Similar to computer anti-virus software, mobile device anti-virus software will protect you against threats such as viruses and malware, commonly and incorrectly referred to as spyware. Just as there are free or paid anti-virus solutions for your computer, there are also free and paid anti-virus solutions for your mobile device. Most of the more popular and free mobile device anti-virus solutions will also scan any app you download. Mobile device anti-virus software available for both iOS and Android devices include Lookout, Kaspersky, Avira and AVG. Most of these are available for free with a few features or for a relatively low annual subscription for premium features.

Unfortunately, most of the vulnerabilities in mobile computing are directly related to the programs needed to make your apps function. While this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of mobile computing protection options, these simple steps will enhance your security.

About the Author
Dennis Backherms is an experienced and technically inclined IT security professional, with more than 17 years of extensive background in impacting organizational performance through adapting to new technologies, markets and challenges. Mr. Backherms is an expert in facilitating pre- and post-technical support through accurately assessing technical challenges and successfully transforming ideas into appropriate workable solutions. Mr. Backherms is a solutions expert in Microsoft technology and implements business processes based on Six Sigma methodology. Mr. Backherms is an adjunct professor at American Public University in the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

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