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The 10 most common mobile security problems and how you can fight them

Michael Cooney | Sept. 20, 2012
When it comes to security, most mobile devices are a target waiting to be attacked. That's pretty much the conclusion of a report to Congress on the status of the security of mobile devices this week by watchdogs at the Government Accountability Office.

So what can be done to secure mobile devices? The GAO report offers a number of ideas including:

" Enable user authentication: Devices can be configured to require passwords or PINs to gain access. In addition, the password field can be masked to prevent it from being observed, and the devices can activate idle-time screen locking to prevent unauthorized access.

" Enable two-factor authentication for sensitive transactions: Two-factor authentication can be used when conducting sensitive transactions on mobile devices. Two-factor authentication provides a higher level of security than traditional passwords. Two-factor refers to an authentication system in which users are required to authenticate using at least two different "factors" something you know, something you have, or something you are before being granted access. Mobile devices themselves can be used as a second factor in some two-factor authentication schemes used for remote access. The mobile device can generate pass codes, or the codes can be sent via a text message to the phone. Two-factor authentication may be important when sensitive transactions occur, such as for mobile banking or conducting financial transactions.

" Verify the authenticity of downloaded applications: Procedures can be implemented for assessing the digital signatures of downloaded applications to ensure that they have not been tampered with.

" Install antimalware capability: Antimalware protection can be installed to protect against malicious applications, viruses, spyware, infected secure digital cards,b and malware-based attacks. In addition, such capabilities can protect against unwanted (spam) voice messages, text messages, and e-mail attachments.

" Install a firewall: A personal firewall can protect against unauthorized connections by intercepting both incoming and outgoing connection attempts and blocking or permitting them based on a list of rules.

" Install security updates: Software updates can be automatically transferred from the manufacturer or carrier directly to a mobile device. Procedures can be implemented to ensure these updates are transmitted promptly.

" Remotely disable lost or stolen devices: Remote disabling is a feature for lost or stolen devices that either locks the device or completely erases its contents remotely. Locked devices can be unlocked subsequently by the user if they are recovered.

" Enable encryption for data stored on device or memory card: File encryption protects sensitive data stored on mobile devices and memory cards. Devices can have built-in encryption capabilities or use commercially available encryption tools.

" Enable whitelisting: Whitelisting is a software control that permits only known safe applications to execute commands.

" Establish a mobile device security policy: Security policies define the rules, principles, and practices that determine how an organization treats mobile devices, whether they are issued by the organization or owned by individuals. Policies should cover areas such as roles and responsibilities, infrastructure security, device security, and security assessments. By establishing policies that address these areas, agencies can create a framework for applying practices, tools, and training to help support the security of wireless networks.


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