FCC Offers Guide for Improving Mobile Security

The free online tool creates a 10-step smartphone action plan to help consumers protect their mobile devices.

With mobile security threats up more than 350 percent since 2010 and smartphones increasingly becoming the dominant mode of communication for consumers, the Federal Communications Commission released an online tool, the Smartphone Security Checker, to help consumers protect their mobile devices.

The free online tool creates a 10-step smartphone action plan to help consumers protect their mobile devices from smartphone-related cyber-security threats. To develop the tool, the FCC teamed up with smartphone security experts from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Cyber Security Alliance, the CTIA wireless association, Lookout, and other public and private sector partners on mobile security best practices.

The FCC noted that almost half of Americans now own a smartphone and close to 20 percent have been the victim of mobile cyber-crime. The guide enables consumers to create a customized 10-step security checklist tailored to their smartphone's operating system, including Apple iOS, Google Android, BlackBerry devices or Microsoft's Windows Phone handsets.

The guide includes information on how to set pins and passwords for a smartphone, download security apps that enable remote locating and data wiping, back up the data on a smartphone if the device is lost or stolen and wipe data on an old phone. Information on where to go to donate, resell or recycle a phone; how to safely use public WiFi networks; and what steps to take if a phone is stolen is also in the guide.

The FCC's announcement is the organization's latest effort to combat the growing threat to mobile security. In April 2012, the FCC launched the Protects Initiative to combat mobile device theft and trafficking. The initiative enables consumers to call their wireless provider to report their wireless devices stolen, which allows their provider to deactivate the device and prevent it from being used on other networks.

According to security specialist Kaspersky Labs, even though users store most of their data on personal computers, more and more people are transferring personal files to their smartphones and tablets, and these devices tend to be significantly less well-protected than PCs, putting that information at a greater risk of loss.

A survey of smartphone and tablet users sponsored earlier this year by Kaspersky and conducted by Harris Interactive found such devices are generally much more vulnerable to cyber-criminals than personal computers. Sixteen percent of tablet owners and 18 percent of mobile phone users have no protection at all for their data. In addition, more than a half of those surveyed use only basic safeguards such as passwords and PIN codes that offer no protection against infection or data interception.

"Given the frequency of usage of security suites and the growth of threats for mobile devices, we can conclude that the most sensitive data is frequently stored on devices with the worst protection," the report noted. "Free WiFi hotspots present a real danger to users of mobile devices: They are the most popular means of mobile Internet connection, despite almost nonexistent security."