Friday, August 17, 2007

Protect mobile phones

Phones are at risk, and not just from theft

Mobile phones, especially smart phones and phones with Bluetooth, are at risk from a number of electronic attacks as well as traditional risks like theft and absent-mindedness.

Why protect your mobile phone?

Besides the usual risks with mobile phones:

  • Theft or loss.
  • Disclosure of private contacts.
  • Fraudulent use of your account.

The new generation of smart phones and phones with wireless connections present new information security challenges:


Bluetooth is a short-range wireless network that allows devices like phones, computers and headsets to communicate with one another. While not inherently unsafe, it needs to be properly used to avoid risks.

  • If your PDA, phone or laptop has a Bluetooth capability and you don’t use it, switch it off.
  • If you use Bluetooth, make sure that your devices are not left ‘discoverable’.
  • Create secure trusted links between devices (‘pairing’) but don’t do this in public in case someone is scanning you while you create the connection.
  • If possible, restrict access to known, paired devices.
  • Do not accept files transmitted via Bluetooth from unknown or suspicious sources.
  • If you lose a Bluetooth-enabled device, delete the pairing from the rest of your devices in case a hacker tries to use it to make a connection.
  • If you have an older phone, check with the manufacturer to see if a software update is available. See The Bunker for a list of potentially vulnerable phones.

Phone viruses?

At the time of writing (summer 2005) there were a handful of viruses that affected high-end phones. Most were proofs-of-concept and did no damage. The majority of these viruses spread using Bluetooth; consequently better Bluetooth security (see above) is a good defence. Others spread when downloading and installing what appears to be pirated software such as a game. Only 4 percent of handsets were potentially vulnerable. This may become a greater threat in future and we will update this page accordingly.


  • If you don’t use a smart phone, you are safe from phone viruses.
  • Use Bluetooth safely (see below).
  • Be careful about downloading applications from untrusted sites.
  • F-Secure has an anti-virus program for certain phones.

Protect against theft

  • Make a note of your IMEI number. This will allow your operator to disable a phone if it is stolen. Type *#06# into your handset to get the IMEI number.
  • Use a security lock or PIN number if your phone allows it.
  • Mark your phone with your postcode and street number.
  • Stay alert when using your phone in a busy area. This is when most phones are stolen.
  • If your phone is stolen notify your operator or call 08701 123 123 as soon as possible.
  • Register your phone online to increase your chances of getting it back if stolen.

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