Smartphone Privacy and Security Tips for Accountants
In today’s digital age, the smartphone has become a centerpiece of modern society. Nearly everyone has one and we are increasingly using it in every facet of our lives, from work to recreation. The problem is that many of us still think of this powerful device as merely a “regular phone,” when in actuality it is a very powerful computer that can fit in the palm of your hand. This computer can access the Internet, your bank account and your work and personal email at the touch of a button. Your smartphone may also store your personal pictures, videos, documents and private conversations with your friends and family. Many people use their personal smartphones in the work place, meaning sensitive work emails, intellectual property, business documents and more may also be stored on your smartphone.
It is important to realize that your smartphone is not just a phone, and may be a major vulnerability when it comes to protecting your privacy, finances and sensitive work information. The longer one thinks of a smartphone as an old regular phone, the longer one will continue to think of it as a normal phone that doesn’t have all the capabilities of a smartphone. A regular phone has no data storage capabilities and can only be used to make phone calls, posing limited risk to the user. A smartphone is quite the opposite, in that it likely stores, or has access to, more of your sensitive information than anything else you may own. As such, we should take the same precautions with our smartphones as we would with anything else that holds such value and poses great risk to ourselves, if placed in the wrong hands.
There are many risks associated with your smartphone, but we will focus on two common occurrences the average smartphone user may not be aware of:
- The use of public WiFi on your smartphone.
- Losing or having your smartphone stolen.
The portability of smartphones, and the convenience of using them to access the Internet when you are out, can make connecting to public WiFi networks seem like a match made in heaven; however, that does not mean it is a safe practice. When connecting to public WiFi networks, you must be aware there is a risk that a hacker is monitoring your Internet activity by accessing the same network and intercepting the information going from your phone to the wireless network. This hacker can see what websites you are visiting and even see what username and passwords are being entered into your phone, while you are browsing the web.
The safest way to proceed is to avoid connecting to public WiFi networks altogether, but this isn’t always practical. When you do connect to a public WiFi network, try to connect to one that has a password requirement. This will limit the number of people accessing the network and implies the host is somewhat aware of who is using their network. Also, be alert for public WiFi networks that seem duplicitous. If you go to a coffee shop, and that coffee shop has two public WiFi networks available, this may mean a hacker has set up his own public WiFi network and is hoping you connect to his “honeypot” WiFi, where he can monitor your activity.
As a general rule, whenever accessing the Internet via a public WiFi network, limit your browsing to things that do not involve any personal information. This means to not log into your email accounts, check your bank accounts or do any shopping while on the public network. If you are the type of person who absolutely needs to connect to public WiFi and uses it for personal and sensitive tasks, you should purchase and install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) onto your phone. A VPN allows you to encrypt the data that is emitted from your phone when you are using public WiFi networks, and stops a hacker from being able to monitor what you are doing.
Lost or Stolen Smartphone
Smartphones are susceptible to theft or being lost because they are constantly being used out in public. Unfortunately, losing your smartphone is extremely dangerous, in that it likely contains more private information than anything else you own. A thief, or someone who finds your phone after you lose it, could have unlimited access to all your apps, email accounts and data stored on your phone, depending on the amount of security you have enabled. Think of all the personal information you have about yourself, family and friends in your personal emails, pictures and texts on your smartphone. You may also have work emails on your phone, meaning a random stranger may now have access to extremely valuable business documents. Some apps allow direct access to your bank accounts, whereby a stranger can begin transferring money out of your accounts.
It is extremely important you prepare for a situation in which your smartphone falls into the hands of a thief. You should, at the minimum, have a passcode required to unlock your phone, in order to prevent unsophisticated thieves from accessing your phone. In addition to the passcode security, you should have a remote wipe capability activated on your phone. A remote wipe allows you to delete all the data off of your phone, even though you do not have it in your possession. This will provide a last resort option to ensure the safety of all your private information, in the case you lose or have your smartphone stolen.
This article covers common security risks your smartphone poses; however, it is important to realize there are a myriad of ways your smartphone can be a vulnerability to your privacy. Treat it as you would any other computer – install anti-virus software, use encryption software if you have very sensitive data on your phone, require passwords to use any banking or financial applications, and don’t let just anyone use your smartphone.
Take these precautions to heart and enjoy using your smartphone without the worry of exposing your private information!