Mobile users have a false sense of security when it comes to their devices, according to a recent report from McAfee.
About 70 percent of smartphone owners said they considered their devices to be safe from cyber-crime, according to a report from the National Cyber-Security Alliance and McAfee released Dec. 27. Even though the report was primarily consumer-oriented, the findings provide insight into how mobile users could impact the country's collective digital infrastructure, McAfee said.
A little over 70 percent of the respondents said they had never installed any form of security software or data protection applications on their device. Respondents said they considered their device to be safe from data theft and other cyber-threats.
"Taking extra precautions to protect smart phones from virus attacks and other threats is not common practice for U.S. consumers as most feel their devices are safe enough," McAfee said.
The lack of security awareness is worrisome, considering that many employees are using their unprotected devices to access work email, read files and log in to enterprise applications. The employee may own the device, but the fact that corporate information may be stored without any data protection is a security risk.
While mobile Internet users may not worry much about the possibility of their devices being attacked, data thieves and hackers are continuously evolving their operations to take advantage of complacent users and exploit software vulnerabilities, McAfee said.
At the same time, new applications are constantly developed and released to meet a variety of user needs, and smartphone owners are downloading more of them. In the past six months, smartphone owners were most likely to download games (46 percent of the time), followed by social-networking applications (at 37 percent), according to the McAfee report.
A little over a quarter, or 26 percent, of the smartphone owners in the survey said they read the developer policy when downloading an application to determine how the application would use personal information, McAfee said. Almost half the respondents said they have removed an application or not installed one over security and safety concerns.
Of those users who rejected an application over security concerns, about 71 percent claimed being unsure of what personal data was being collected and how it would be used was the primary reason for uninstalling the application, McAfee said.
Mobile Web use has increased. About 44 percent of the respondents use smartphones to access the Internet for shopping, surfing or socializing. About 75 percent of the respondents said they access the Internet more frequently using smartphones than they did even a year ago, according to the survey.
Users should "get savvy" about the public WiFi hotspots they connect to so that they don't expose themselves to man-in-the-middle-attacks by cyber-criminals. Even if the user thinks the hotspot is safe, they should limit the type of application and Websites being accessed, according to McAfee.
McAfee cited statistics from digital research firm comScore, estimating that nearly 32.5 million Americans had accessed banking information using their mobile devices at the end of the 2011 second quarter.
A Consumer Reports study found that 24 percent of users stored computer and banking passwords on their smartphones and other mobile devices, according to McAfee.
Considering that, if the phone is lost or stolen, anyone can potentially harvest the data saved on the device, McAfee recommended using strong pass codes to lock the phone as well as selecting long and strong passwords to secure accounts.