Can Anyone Really Track Your Phone’s Precise Location?

It’s 2019 and everyone willingly carries a tracking device in their pockets. People can have their precise locations tracked in real time by law enforcement, the government, and advertising companies. It may sound like dystopian fiction, but it’s a reality.

How law enforcement can track your location
AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile all sell data — including geographic locations associated with customer phone numbers — to a variety of sketchy third-party companies. This data, for instance, can be used by the bail bond industry to track people down, sometimes as accurate as a few hundred feet of their location. There’s not much oversight and rogue bounty hunters have access to the data. And this isn’t even a new problem.

Back in May 2018, The New York Times reported that this could happen. After the story broke, cellular carriers promised to do better. AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile have all promised to stop selling this data to aggregators. And it appears that Verizon already stopped before the New York Times story.

How the government can track your location
It’s worth emphasizing that the government itself can still get access to your location data from your cellular company. They just need to get a warrant, then serve that to your cellular service provider.

If the technology exists, the government can get access to it with a warrant. It is quite a change from decades ago when the government had no way to track people’s real-time locations with a device that’s nearly always on their person.

The government doesn’t even need to get your cellular company involved. There are other tricks they can use to pinpoint your location with even better accuracy, such as by deploying “stingray devices” near you. These devices impersonate nearby cellular towers, forcing your phone to connect to them.

How advertisers can track your location
It’s not just your cellular carrier. Even if your cellular carrier perfectly safeguarded your data, it’d probably be very easy to track you thanks to the location access you’ve given to apps installed on your smartphone.

As innocuous as they may seem, Weather apps are particularly bad. You install a weather app and give it access to your location to show you the local weather. But that weather app may also be selling your data to the highest bidder. You likely didn’t pay money for your weather app, so the developers will need to make money somehow to keep the lights and servers on.

The city of Los Angeles is currently suing the Weather Channel, saying that its app intrusively mines and sells its users’ location data. Back in 2017, AccuWeather was caught sending its users’ location data to third-party advertisers — even after updating the app to remove that feature.

It’s best to avoid giving third-party apps access to your location. Stop using third-party weather apps and use your phone’s built-in weather app instead.

How your family can track your location
Your phone is capable of determining its location and sharing it in the background, even if the screen is off.

You don’t need to have an app open. You can see this for yourself if you use a service like Apple’s “Find My Friends,” which is included on iPhones. Find My Friends can be used to share your precise real-time locations with family and friends. After you give someone access, they can open the app, and Apple’s servers will ping your phone, get your location, and show it to them. Of course, this is only with your permission, but it just shows how pervasive this technology is.

Protect Yourself Against The Phone “Port-Out” Scam

Chances are that you probably haven’t heard of the port-out scam. However, just because it is something that has yet to attract widespread attention doesn’t mean it’s not a threat you should take seriously. Let’s take a look at why.

What Is a Port-Out Scam?
It’s very common for people to take their existing phone numbers with them when they switch mobile provider. Recently, unscrupulous individuals have been taking advantage of the ease with which this can be done by porting other people’s numbers and essentially taking control of them.

Here’s how it works: Someone calls your carrier or visits the store and pretends to be you. They then instruct the provider to port your number to a new carrier. Without warning, you find your cellphone service has been cut off, and some stranger has complete control of your number. A variation of this is SIM hijacking, which operates in a similar way but the attacker orders a new SIM.

Why Should You Care?
Losing the ability to use your phone is the least of your worries. Once the attacker has control of your phone, they will receive all your messages. If you have set up banking security measures that involve SMS authentication, the hijacker can potentially access your bank account and many other sources of highly sensitive information.

How To Protect Yourself
Fortunately, it’s really easy to avoid the port-out scam. All you need to do is add a security PIN to your account. From that point onward, people will not be able to make any type of change to your account without citing the PIN. As such, you are protected against both the port-out and SIM hijacking scams. Most carriers will let you set a PIN quickly and easily online or via the phone.

How to Cut Down Your Mobile Data Usage

With unlimited mobile data plans being few and far between, it is imperative to monitor and manage your data usage to prevent outrageously high cellular bills. Even if you have an unlimited plan grandfathered into your service, there are other benefits to cutting down your mobile data usage, including increased battery life on your device and faster service in general. Try these tips to keep your data usage at a minimum:

• Track your usage. It’s impossible to set a usage goal or identify problems without knowing how much data you use and how you use it. Within the settings of your smartphone, you can easily find how much data you’ve used in a billing period and even set warnings for when you approach your data limits.

• Identify what applications use the most data. This can also be done within your smartphone’s settings where you can see app usage at a glance and can also set warnings or cut-off limits at this level. After assessing how much data each application uses, you may even want to delete the most data-hungry ones.

• Take advantage of free WiFi. A wide array of businesses offer free wireless Internet service as a perk to customers, so don’t pass up the opportunity to get your high-usage needs met at no expense to you. You can even configure your settings where applications only update when WiFi is available.

• Put the stymie on streaming music and video. While you may like to show your friends the latest footage off of YouTube or listen to your playlists while on a run, these activities come with a high data usage price tag. Try waiting to view videos until WiFi is available and make your playlists available offline to listen to them at will without any costly data usage.

Just by implementing these simply usage-reducing and awareness strategies, you can greatly decrease your cellular data bill and the workload on your smartphone device. This is a win-win no matter how you look at it.

New Security Risk For Android Phones

Just when you thought you had safeguarded your mobile device from any misuse, a new threat emerges.

For Android users, it’s a big one. Rapid7 has recently discovered a security bug that allows cyber criminals to access a smartphone user’s data.

Although this security problem is widespread, Google has responded that it will take no action to fix it. The bug exists in phones operating on Android 4.3 and below, and allows hackers to control your smartphone.

Although Android 4.4 and 5.0 users are not vulnerable to this risk, this issue affects approximately 60 percent of Android users – almost a billion people worldwide.

Google’s official response is that their policy is not to develop fixes for older software versions, but it can notify people of the risk and others are welcome to create their own fixes.

To date, there are no known patches to address this issue. There is, however, one way to ensure your safety if you possess an affected smartphone. Simply download and install a newer version of the operating software.

Security Tips For Your Smart Phone

Today it is fairly easy to carry out business tasks using smart phones. Emailing, browsing the Internet and even creating or editing documents is now a breeze.

So technically, smart phones are now carrying a large amount of sensitive data that needs to be protected. Not only are Smart phones subject to the same threats as PCs, but they are also quite easy to misplace and lose.

Here are a few tips that will help you mitigate some of these security risks:

Screen lock the phone
Whenever you leave your phone unattended, lock your smart phone to require a password or PIN code or set it to lock after few minutes. This will prevent unwanted access and will protect your data in case the phone is lost or stolen.

Enable remote device wipe
Check if your phone allows the memory-wipe function in case it is lost or stolen. Some phones have this feature embedded, but most others will require that you download an app and potentially pay for the service that goes with it.

Apply system updates
From time to time, smart phone vendors, mobile carriers, or hardware manufacturers update the operating systems on their phones. These updates usually include useful and necessary security-related improvements.

Turn off Bluetooth discovery mode
Many people leave their smart phones on Bluetooth-discovery mode around the clock. On some phones, this feature is set by default; however, check your phone and make sure it is disabled when you are not using it. Failing to do so, your phone will constantly be discoverable to others and allow people to connect to your device without prior authorization.

Install mobile anti-virus
Malware purveyors are increasingly targeting smart phones. It is now important to use anti-virus software for your phone just like you would do for your PC.

This is particularly important for Android devices as they are built on an open platform susceptible to malware.

Why Your Company Should Make The Switch To VoIP

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

We made the switch to a Voice over IP (VoIP) phone system a few weeks ago. I opted for an in-house telephone server, but could have easily chosen a hosted option that didn’t require any hardware in the office except for phones.

A growing number of small businesses are making the same switch. While it can be a lot of work to overhaul the entire telecommunications system of your small business, it is definitely worth considering in light of the ever-increasing costs of traditional services.

What is VoIP?
VoIP is a method of making phone calls using the Internet as opposed to using typical landlines. VoIP services integrate Internet connected IP phones, which look pretty much like traditional office phones, except they plug into an Internet connection with an Ethernet cable.

Cost effectiveness
The biggest VoIP attraction is low cost. Since they’re Internet-based, hosted systems usually require little to no hardware investment. You might need to upgrade your firewall or Ethernet switches to accomodate the increased traffic.

An in-house system requires an investment in a mid-grade voice server, the phone system software, new phones, and possible network upgrades. The equipment cost is around half of what a traditional phone system would cost.

We’ve seen our monthly phone bill drop from over $300 per month to less than $60 using VoIP carriers instead of a traditional phone company.

Hosted fees run from $20 to $30 per extension, which includes all of your local and long distance calling, and the rental of the cloud based phone system.c150103_m

VoIP is particularly cost-effective, if you have employees working from satellite offices or telecommuters.

A telecommuter can take a VoIP phone home and make calls by plugging it into his home Internet connection to make and receive calls on the company lines at no additional cost.

Other benefits
Certain VoIP service providers have introduced mobile apps that allow workers to make and receive phone calls on their mobile devices using the company phone numbers. Their privacy is therefore protected since they do not give their personal phone number.

In addition, the company owns the line so if an employee leaves, calls are routed to the company rather than the employee’s cell phone.

Things to consider
While the mobility and scalability of VoIP systems are attractive, there are a few things to keep in mind. Since VoIP services depend on an Internet connection, if the connection fails, the phones would be dysfunctional.

In a business such as ours, where phones are integral to daily operations and client service, we would strongly recommend a backup Internet connection.

Almost all VoIP systems also have a fail over function, where the system will automatically route incoming calls to another number, such as a cell phone, if the Internet goes down.

The future
The increase in VoIP adoption is undeniable, and analysts predict that it will become the predominant business phone service over the next decade. Our system works great, and I’m glad we made the switch!

(Image Source: iCLIPART)

Mobile Device Management Is Key In Securing Your Network

by Jeremy Miller, Technician
Mobile devices have been finding their way into the workplace since the cell phone was invented. Since the evolution of mobile devices in the workplace is rapidly growing and changing it can be hard to make sure that your device is not leaking company information intentionally or even unintentionally.

Information Technology (IT) has had to evolve alongside mobile technology and how to secure devices without restricting too much access.

There are usually two options of allowing mobile devices in the workplace. You can provide your employees with a company owned device or you can allow them to use their personal device.

Providing your employees with a company owned device allows you to monitor every detail about the phone including calls, messages, installed apps and location of the device. This is possible because the employee can expect no privacy from the company on this device.

When you allow an employee to use their own device at work you have to take their personal privacy in consideration. You might not want to monitor their phone calls, messages and apps installed.

Instead you can make the device more secure. You can install monitoring software that will allow you to lock the device if it gets lost, wipe the device if you know it may have fallen into the wrong hands, or find the device by using GPS location.

We have the ability to install our monitoring software onto any Android or iOS device and choose a profile that will suit a personally owned device, a company owned device or we can even customize a plan that will suit your needs even more specifically.

Since mobile devices are prone to getting lost or stolen they need to be protected in the best way that you can. In most cases installing monitoring software is the best solution.

This is because we can monitor the phone without interfering with the device usage. Once the device is compromised we can act quickly to get the device secured.

On the other hand if you notice an employee is acting suspiciously you can monitor their phone usage to determine if they are wasting time or acting maliciously against the company and take action before something more serious happens.

The best part about managing your mobile devices through Tech Experts, is that we are very competitive with other personal phone security managers out there in both price and features.

Our prices are very affordable and services can be easily customized to meet your needs.

It takes just about as long as installing an app to your phone as it does to setup our management software on any mobile device running Android or iOS.

You will be able to rest assured that your mobile devices are virtually safe from data loss, your employees are using their resources and time accordingly, and in the event of an issue we will be there to assist you in any way we can.

If you are interested in trying out our mobile device management service please contact us and we will be happy to help you with any questions.

BlackBerry To Profit From Patents

by David Stone, Technician
After a little over a decade of being a main mobile power in the business world, Blackberry (NASDAQ: BBRY) is fading to black.

The smartphone and tablet manufacturer is getting edged out by an array of factors: First they waited too long to release a device that could compete with Android and iOS, and then fell short on innovative features and operability. Secondly, they failed to market their devices to generate the kind of “tech buzz” needed to drive consumer sales these days.

While Blackberry reigned supreme as the go-to business message service and mobile emailing solution, they were surpassed by changes in industry and social popularity.

Perhaps they made changes too little too late, or perhaps they thought that their grip on the business world would ever cease. Either way, they will forever be an example of how refusing to adapt and change or not being able to see the coming change will extinct your business.

The announcement of profit losses was preceded by a work force reduction plan and the possibility of going private. Both indicate a company in turmoil, not a tech giant about to reinvent the way people connect and share data. The future for new devices looks bleak at Blackberry, but the future of the company looks like it might have some options that provide low-maintenance profitability.

In addition to being the 6th largest manufacturer of mobile devices (smartphones & tablets) Blackberry also provides mobile internet service to 91 countries on a worldwide network of over 500 mobile carriers.

Blackberry also holds a lot of proprietary patents, which much like Microsoft will generate plenty of income with little to no cost. This would essentially turn the company into a technology holding company, with a focus on maintaining licensing not developing new hardware. In effect, this would hand the company over to the lawyers and wrestle it away from the engineers. That does not bode well for any company that wants to be an industry trend-setter.

With stiff competition from Android and iOS, a former industry standard in the world of mobile computing is all but gone. Perhaps it will remain in the ring for a few more rounds with a cult-like following of users, or maybe they will break into the services sector and resurge as a mobile-enhancement services company.

The Benefits Of VoIP Over Traditional Phone Service

by Jeremy Miller, Technician
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is the general term used for transmitting two-way voice communication over a network.

This can work on any network, whether it be at home or work, connected to the Internet. VoIP can also be used for internal communications and do not necessarily need to be transmitted out to the Internet.

Plain old telephone system (POTS) is the traditional phone service that everyone is used to, and it is commonly known as a home phone.

This system is designed to run on dedicated electronic circuits and is transmitted using analog signals where VoIP uses digital.

There are many reasons that you should use VoIP over POTS many of which include cost and expansion. Where ever you have a network connection, VoIP can be implemented. POTS often are much more costly.

As I said before POTS requires a dedicated circuit to transmit on. This means every time you add a new phone you would have to run a phone line and a network drop.

POTS can become quite expensive for an office building if you have to run phone lines to each person’s office.

In the event of expansion POTS will require costly hardware upgrades and provisioning of new lines. VoIP will only require more bandwidth and possibly software upgrades which are generally inexpensive and very easy to do.

There is much more competition in the VoIP market. Where POTS may have a few providers to choose from in your area, VoIP will have hundreds to choose from on the Internet.

When using VoIP you have control over the traffic of the phone calls as well. This makes it easy to manage, record, and maintain all phone calls.

Many of the features such as call waiting, conference calling, music on hold, multiple extensions and voice mailboxes are all free with VoIP. These features have always come at a premium when using POTS.

VoIP does not limit you to what you can transmit over its call. For instance you can make a video call or a voice call using VoIP. While in your call you can send over an attachment which is quite similar to email.

There are downsides to using VoIP as well, but most of them can be mitigated. The first is unpredictable quality of service. You may not always get great sound or video quality.

This is usually dictated by the available bandwidth. If you notice your quality is not as good as you like, then you may need to upgrade your Internet speed or you network equipment.

VoIP may not always get you to the correct 911 responder in the event of an emergency. They are not centralized like POTS. The traffic could be routed around the world.

Since VoIP relies on the Internet and the Internet relies on electricity, you will lose your VoIP service if either Internet or electricity goes down.

This can be avoided by having a redundant Internet connection and battery backups for your network equipment.

You can also install an IP based private automatic branch exchange (PABX) which will allow you to integrate your POTS with VoIP so you can take advantage of VoIP and not lose the benefits of POTS.

If you are looking into VoIP or have any questions we would be happy to help.

Staying Connected When You Travel

Thomas Fox is president of Tech Experts, southeast Michigan’s leading small business computer support company.

Summertime is vacation time for a lot of business owners, and keeping in touch with the office can be a challenge while you’re on the road. Here are some tips to stay in touch and connected – but only if you want to!

Cellular and mobile broadband
The single biggest change in mobile technology is the ubiquity of relatively high speed data service. Coverage has increased significantly, and speeds rival that of low-end landline connections.

Phones themselves have evolved – many are now small, powerful computers that are constantly connected to the Internet.

Tethering
Tethering is the act of connecting your phone to your computer so the computer can use the phone’s Internet connection. Sometimes inaccurately described as a “modem” in these situations, the phone simply acts as a gateway connecting your PC to the mobile data network.

Not all phones or providers support tethering. When available, it usually uses a USB cable to connect the computer to the mobile phone.

An option that’s becoming more popular recently is the ability of some phones to act as a Wifi hotspot. When enabled, the phone itself becomes a Wifi access point, and laptops and other Wifi-enabled devices can connect to the Internet just as they would via any other hotspot.

Cellular Hardware
If you don’t have a phone capable of sharing its Internet connection, another option are devices dedicated to providing Internet connectivity to your computer.

Many mobile providers offer USB devices that act as dedicated interfaces to the Internet using the mobile network.

Drawbacks of mobile broadband
There are two primary drawbacks to mobile broadband: Coverage, speed and cost. While decent voice service is nearly universal in all but the most remote locations in the US, good data coverage is a gamble.

It isn’t uncommon for one carrier to have “four bars” of coverage in an area, and another to have barely any, so if you travel much, particularly to more rural or remote areas, coverage matters. You can easily try out different carriers by purchasing “reloadable” service on that carrier – if the service doesn’t work, simply cancel without penalty.

Cost is another limiting factor to mobile connectivity. Most smartphones include some kind of base connectivity charge in their monthly fee, adding $20, $30, or more per month to the basic cost of the phone.

Free Wifi hotspots
At the other end of the cost spectrum are the networks of free open Wifi hotspots that you can find across the country.

Be it Starbucks, McDonald’s, local coffee houses, restaurants, bookstores, and more, many retail businesses provide Wifi as perk of doing business with them.

If your travels take you along routes populated with these types of establishments, you can travel from one to the other, taking advantage of their connectivity as you go. While technically free, the assumption is that you’re a customer – so at least buy a cup of coffee.

The drawbacks here include security and possibly speed. Depending on how heavily used the location is, your speed of access may depend on how many other users you’re sharing the connection with.