Most of us could not live today without our smart phones. If we had to, we would be much less productive; some of us might face very real business and financial (if not psychological) repercussions. We don’t even want to think about it.

Apple Resists the Feds in Ongoing Privacy Debate

But as ingrained in our society as our devices have become, we are just starting to come to grips with some very real privacy and security issues that our connected world raises. Currently, Apple CEO Tim Cook is resisting pressure from the Federal Government to help access the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooting conspirators. This is a fascinating and very critical debate.

While no rational person would want to deny law enforcement every tool to help uncover the nefarious plans of terrorists and criminals, we must consider at what cost. First, the FBI is citing a law dating back to 1789 to justify their demand for access. This illustrates how far behind we are in addressing the issues that have arisen in recent decades and the pressing need for our society to come to terms with the balance of security and privacy going forward.

Apple argues that for them to assist the FBI in hacking this particular conspirator’s device, it would be establishing a terrible precedent for the privacy and security of its customers. Besides being bad PR, Apple argues that this would undermine the relationships of the company with its customers and the customers with their devices. Creating any “back door” or weakness in the devices’ encryption systems could also undermine the integrity of the device and it could be found and exploited by cyber criminals. Apple executives also argue that creating ways around their own security systems would ultimately fail because hackers and criminals will adapt and just find ways to block that access.

Whether you are inclined to err on the side of law enforcement or you are concerned about the precedent of invading personal privacy for criminals possibly extending to law abiding citizens, Apple’s arguments point out the need for an honest hearing and deliberation of the benefits and dangers of weakening security for any reason.

What We Should Know About Security and Privacy Today

While courts, lawmakers, and executives grapple with these issues, it is important for users to understand the issues and what is at stake. But, while some security and privacy matters remain unresolved, let’s start by understanding what is within our control today and what we should be doing to protect our devices, our data, and our personal security.

Security Settings

Use a Passcode

Most people probably already use a passcode to lock the home screen after a certain interval of time. If you do not have the fingerprint access feature and you think entering the passcode each time you pick up the phone will be cumbersome, start with a high interval between log off. You can set the Auto-Lock to engage after 5 minutes of inactivity. Entering the 4-digit passcode quickly becomes second nature.

Don’t Default to WiFi

Ease of access and the desire to save your plan’s data can be dangerous. Leaving your device defaulted to pick up WiFi could leave you vulnerable to malware, hacking, or data theft from a bogus or unsecured WiFi set up to snare unsuspecting users who come within range.

Location Settings

While some location-based features are very helpful, some are unnecessary and potentially dangerous. We want Amber alerts and weather alerts but if you cannot think of a good reason to share specific data about your movements, you may want to opt out of that feature. This ZDNet article gives some great information and can walk you through some of these location-based settings to consider.

Advertising Settings

Many mobile phone users are creeped out by location advertising. There are simple settings you can select to block most location based advertising and the collection of data based on your activities and the places you frequent

Using Your Phone

Update Software

When a new software update is made available, do not delay to install it. Along with new features, the updates often include enhanced security measures that are important.

Don’t Click SMS Links

While we have focused on settings that apply primarily to iPhones, Android devices are not free from troubles. A new Android-based malware known as Mazer is targeting users through text (SMS and MMS) messaging and, once installed, allows attackers to retrieve data, monitor calls and messages, control the device or even erase all the device’s data. Avoid clicking unknown links in text messages as well as emails and this advice, of course, applies to iPhone users as well.

Don’t Charge as a USB

Only connect your phone to the computer you use to make updates and download music. Realize that any malware or security flaw you may have accidentally accepted or loaded on your phone from unsecured WiFi or a malicious free app could potentially affect your computer as well. For home use, good antivirus software should be adequate protection. For your work computer that may contain sensitive or even regulatory protected information, the risk is simply not worth it.

Use this month’s security tip to share these tips for smartphone privacy with colleagues and friends. We provide shareable tips like this every month. You can share this one as a reminder for yourself or anyone you want to keep safe.

While larger issues of security versus privacy, encryption, and back door access continue to be debated, it is important that we become informed and, if necessary, active consumers. If you have strong feelings about these issues, now is the time to let your voice be heard by legislators and your mobile carrier. Whether you are inclined to take a stand or not at this juncture, please be aware of the steps you should be taking today to control the settings and manage the access others may have to your devices.

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