One of the most painful experiences is losing your cell phone. All your contacts, important and sensitive information stored in your phone will probably be lost forever, never to be retrieved again.
The guys at Symantec recently did a study to find what happens when a lost phone is found by a stranger. The study was dubbed: The Symantec Smartphone Honey Stick Project.
The project basically entailed intentionally loosing 50 smartphones in New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. The phones were intentionally lost in a number of different environments such as elevators, malls, food courts, public transport stops and heavily trafficked, publicly accessed locations. Before the phones were “lost”, a collection of simulated corporate and personal data was placed on them, along with the capability to remotely monitor what happened to them once they were found.
No security software or features (e.g. passwords) were enabled on any of the devices to make it easy for finders to initiate virtually any action without any complications. The objective in leaving devices unprotected was to observe what actions a human threat would take it there were no barriers to accessing any of the apps or information on a phone. Below are the findings:
- Chief among the findings is that there is a very high likelihood that attempts will be made to access both sensitive personal – and business – related information, if a lost and unprotected smartphone is found by a stranger.
- The owner of the lost smartphone should not assume that the finder of the device will attempt to contact them.
- Even if contact is made, the owner of the devise should not assume that their personal – or business – related information has not been violated.
96 per cent of lost smartphones were accessed by the finders of the devices, 89 per cent of devices were accessed for personal related apps and information, 83 per cent of the devices were accessed for corporate related apps and information, 70 per cent of devices were accessed for both business and personal related apps and information. Surprisingly, 50 per cent of smartphone finders contacted the owner and provided contact information.
Let’s apply these findings to a Kenyan situation.
A close relative of mine lost her to theft some time back. Unfortunately for her, she had not registered her SIM card to M-Pesa, meaning, if she had money in her SIM cards’ M-Pesa account, anyone could withdraw money without having to key in a password. When her phone was stolen, she had about KES 30,000 in her phone and the guys who stole her phone withdrew the money. As stated in the report, people are naturally curious, but when a lost mobile device is discovered, curiosity can lead to the violation of personal privacy and the exposure of sensitive personal information. It’s evident that thieves will first go through your phone to find what they can steal, e.g money stored in your phone, after which they dispose off the phone.
With reference to the 50 per cent chance that you will notified by a finder that your smartphone was found, I recently dropped my smartphone along a busy street in Nairobi and didn’t realize I had done so. To my surprise, a stranger who saw me drop the phone picked it up, ran after me and handed it back to me, I guess I was just lucky.
Below are some recommendations from the Symantec research.
Smartphone users should use the screen lock feature and make sure it is secured with a strong password or “draw to unlock” pattern.
Consumers should use security software specifically designed for smartphones. Such tools can stop hackers and prevent cybercriminals from stealing information or spying on users when using public networks. In addition it can often help locate a lost or stolen device and even remotely lock or wipe it.
Lastly, when out and about, users should ensure that their mobile devises remain nearby and never be left unattended. It is also a good idea to make sure they can differentiate their device from others that might be sitting in the immediate vicinity; adding distinguishing features such as a sticker or case may help.
Enjoy and protect your smartphone.