Report: Mobile device malware infections reached an all-time high in 2016, with smartphones hit the hardest.

Share story

Each day the media bombards our news feeds with headlines about data breaches. Recently, 143 million people may have been affected when Equifax was compromised. As we try not to panic with another threat of identity theft, the advice from the experts seems a little too late.

Smartphones, mini computers in our pockets, have become a lifeline for information and communication. With the growing trend of smartphone use over desktops or laptops, the need to protect personal information on our phones has become increasingly important.

According to the Nokia Threat Intelligence Report, mobile device malware infections reached an all-time high with smartphones being hit the hardest. They say infections rose nearly 400 percent in 2016 alone, and most smartphones have no security features to protect you from data-stealing software.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Update your operating system. Not all phones and/or mobile providers support updates for phones, but if they do, updates should be applied as often and as quickly as possible. How well upgrades are supported is an important thing to consider when purchasing a new phone.

Lock your phone. You wouldn’t leave your house without locking the door, why would you leave your phone open for anyone to just walk in and take your information? Experts recommend both a biometric, such as a finger tap, security option and a passcode.

Update your apps. Apps are places where infections can start. Make sure your phone automatically updates your apps to insure you have the most up-to-date security fixes.

Read the reviews and what is posted online about an app before loading it. Apps in all of the major app stores have been found to contain viruses and spyware. “When loading an app, check which permissions the app tries to access. If for example, a flashlight app asks for permission to access your contacts or photos, there is a good chance that what it wants to do with those is not something you want it to do,” says Erik Fretheim, program director for Western Washington University’s Computer and Information Systems Security program.

Public Wi-Fi: Safe or unsafe? Public Wi-Fi is just that – public. Anything you do over public Wi-Fi can be seen and tracked. According to Fretheim, “If you don’t want people to see which broker you use for tracking your stocks, what your email password is, or anything else personal and private about you, don’t do it over public Wi-Fi. Especially avoid any kinds of financial transactions. I avoid those completely on my mobile phone anyway as the level of security makes it simply too risky. For my banking, I use a well-protected PC, which my kids are not allowed to use to surf the internet or play games on.”

Consider setting up a remote wipe to protect you if your phone is lost or stolen. You can do this by activating the Find My iPhone or Android Device Manager app, which allows you to remotely delete all data.

A few more tips from Erik Fretheim:

Taking steps to keep your personal information secure is more important now than ever with a shortage of trained cybersecurity professionals creating serious consequences for individuals, corporations and government agencies seeking to protect sensitive information. Nationally, cybersecurity jobs now account for 10 percent of all Information Technology jobs.

The state of Washington continues to enroll students in Computer and Information Systems Security programs to address the growing need. This fall, CISS students from across the state will be able to practice handling cyber-attacks and trying new techniques to stop them in a virtual environment at the state’s first ever Cyber Range at Western Washington University’s Poulsbo location.

To help set up the virtual environment, Boeing donated 50 computer servers. “The equipment donation to support the Cyber Range is just one of the latest projects between Boeing and Western where both the community and students will benefit,” says Kendall Nolan, the 737 Director of Quality at Boeing.

“It’s important to note that the Cyber Range will support all of the state’s cybersecurity programs, not just ours at Western,” said Fretheim. “It allows a safe environment where students can practice their techniques and investigate viruses without carrying risky activities over the internet.”

Western Washington University has built the state’s first Cyber Range in Poulsbo. It will be a statewide resource for students to learn cybersecurity skills and for companies to benefit from testing their equipment in a contained environment.