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.

Are Smartphones And Tablets Killing The Traditional PC?

In the early days of the Internet, there was only one device that enabled you to access it. That was the desktop computer.

Laptop computers have existed for as long as desktops have, but due to hardware limitations, they never really became a viable alternative.

In a technical sense, laptops are “mobile” devices, but still require the user to be seated to use. It hasn’t been until recently that we have seen truly mobile devices.

The Rise Of Smartphones
The first smartphone was invented in 1992, three years before the term “smartphone” even existed. It was IBM’s “Simon,” which was a cellphone with a monochrome LCD touchscreen and a stylus.

It was the first phone was able to send faxes, pages, and emails and it was even capable of running third party applications.

It came with built-in features that are so commonplace on today’s smartphones that most people take them for granted, such as a calendar, a notepad, a world clock, and a way to schedule appointments.

Simon didn’t sell well and its $899 price tag surely didn’t help move units either. For comparison, that’s the same purchasing power as $1607 in 2018.

It wasn’t until Apple’s iPhone in 2007 that the modern smartphone became mainstream. IBM was able to sell a total of 50,000 Simon smartphones over its entire lifetime, a number that is dwarfed by Apple’s 1.4 million iPhone sales in the first year of its existence.

The Aging Desktop
Hardware advancements in recent years have made smartphones powerful enough to perform all the basic functions that consumers were using desktops for in the early days of the Internet.

Smartphones are also priced lower than their desktop counterparts. Sure, if you compare the price of a brand new, top-of-the-line smartphone to a much more powerful desktop PC you may find that the desktop by itself is less expensive.

But for a desktop to function you also need peripherals like a monitor, keyboard, a mouse, speakers, etc. You also need a desk, a chair, a constant source of power, and, in most cases, an entire dedicated room. One could make the argument that you need to pay for a cell phone service to be able to use all the functions of a smartphone, but that isn’t much different than paying for an ISP.

Tablets
In 2010, Apple made yet another mobile device that would change the tech world forever: the tablet. Tablets are essentially large smartphones although they aren’t typically used to make phone calls.

Due to their size, they are capable of carrying stronger hardware than smartphones and they are easier to use as a practical tool in the workplace. There are even specialized “professional” tablets that are designed with detachable keyboards and Bluetooth mice that run the same operating systems that their desktop cousins do.

They weigh less than modern “lightweight” notebook laptops, and have the advantage of a touchscreen. Their functionality comes at a steep price though, and it’s one that will be felt by your wallet. Most “professional” laptops will cost even more than the most powerful desktops and laptops.

No Clear Winner
Each option has different pros and based on how you intend to use it. Although smartphones and tablets have been quickly taking over the home user market, almost all workplaces still use the desktop computer.

The price per performance ratio is still in the desktop’s favor. It could be a very long time before mobile devices gain the functionality of a desktop while matching their price.

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.

Is Antivirus Necessary For Smartphones?

July_2015_CellPhone_email_sizeChances are, you have an antivirus program installed on your personal computer. You may not, however, have the same sort of protection for your smartphone.

If you don’t, you’re certainly not alone. Being part of a majority, however, doesn’t make the data on your smartphone safe. The same threats that lurk in cyber land can attack your phone as easily as a personal computer, but there isn’t a lot of attention being given in the media and other venues about viruses on smartphones.

So, despite that lack of attention, should you install antivirus protection on your smartphones and tablets?

The truth is that you should. Smartphones are fast becoming the prime method of accessing the Internet, and the amount and nature of sensitive data on these devices puts you, your business, and even others whom you hold dear at risk.

Since many viruses are designed to gain access to personal information on devices, the risks are greater than you may think. We may not think about installing antivirus applications on our smartphones because it doesn’t address a widespread problem at this time.

In the near future, however, viral attacks on phones is inevitable. From an employer’s standpoint, the need to protect smartphones is even more important than on a personal level. With more and more business being conducted via handheld devices, a virus on a smartphone has the potential to interrupt operations, causing costly delays and compromising sensitive company data.

Security software applications that can protect smartphones are available for download. Look for one that is not just vigilant against malware, however.

It should also provide an option to remotely wipe smartphones clean in the case of a viral attack to protect company data as well as have a GPS location feature to facilitate easy recovery.

Another feature experts recommend in a security software application is the ability to limit the types of applications employees download onto their company-provided smartphones.

Security Tips To Keep Your Mobile Phone Secure

We’ve all seen the stories about celebrities getting their mobile phones hacked and having their private photos splattered all over the web.

Although you may think there is nothing of real interest on your phone, you are still at risk of security invasion. Any number of people could have motive to do so from exes to a colleague who perceives you as a threat, and even innocuous content on your phone can be taken out of context to reflect negatively on you in general.

Use some of these simple tips to protect your mobile phone and reputation:

Passwords
Your passwords are your primary defense against would-be hackers – from your lock code to email account password. Don’t share your passwords with others. Also, make sure your passwords aren’t easily guessed, such as your pet’s name or child’s birthday.

A secure password may not be as easily remembered, but it is far harder to hack. Finally, shield your phone’s screen when entering passwords in public lest onlookers take note of which buttons you push.

Clear Out the Cobwebs
In addition to creating more storage space on your mobile phone, it is just wise to remove old text conversations, photos, and other data periodically.

Back up the things you want to keep onto other devices, so you can access them later. With all of the excess stuff you don’t use on a regular basis gone, you leave less for hackers to work with if the security of your mobile phone is breached. In the event of being hacked, you would also likely lose all of those things, so backing such info up protects you twofold.

Beef Up Security
Take advantage of the lesser-known security features of your mobile phone. For example, turn off the Discoverable mode on your Bluetooth.

Look on your phone under Security to see if there are already included options, such as an automatic lock screen that activates after a certain period of inactivity.

There are also applications you can download to increase the level of security on your phone, including apps that allow you to access and control your phone remotely in the case of loss or theft.

How The “Internet of Things” Will Affect Small Business

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

Just when you thought you had the Internet mastered, something new crops up on the horizon.

One of the newest advances that will likely revolutionize the world is the Internet of Things (IoT).

If you haven’t heard of this, you’re not alone, but this idea is fast becoming a realization. Simply put, the IoT refers to how it is possible to remotely control and monitor just about anything via sensors and, of course, your Internet connection – from opening your home’s garage door from your office to the level of dog food remaining in your pooch’s bowl.

This concept recently gained definition at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference when the company unveiled two applications for iOS8.

The first was the HealthKit app, which lets users keep up with health and fitness data without wearing an actual tracker. The other was the HomeKit that can remotely control electronic devices like lights and cameras at home. [Read more…]

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.

Security Risks Of Employee Owned Devices

Employees using their own mobile devices for work may seem like a good idea at first – it’s less expense for you, the employer, and they can also make employees more productive.

However, it also means that you are allowing potentially unsecure devices to access your company’s data. The solution? An effective IT security policy that balances personal freedom to use these devices and your need to secure important business information.

As technology continues to become more affordable and accessible to consumers, it’s an inevitable fact that employers will see more and more of their employees using  their own personal devices such as laptops and mobile phones to access the company’s IT system.

This can be a dangerous thing. Since these devices aren’t company owned and regulated, you have limited access and control over how they are used. Employees could download all sorts of malware and viruses on their devices and pass the infection along to your IT system when they access it.

The solution: a comprehensive IT security policy. It’s important that you find a compromise between the freedom of the employee to use the device as desired and your need to keep your IT system safe from viruses and other threats to your data’s security.

Steps such as having employees run mobile device management (MDM) software on their devices is one of many actions you can take to lessen the risk of security breaches. You may also want to implement applications and software that check and screen for malware, both for laptops and mobile devices. And don’t forget that while Android seems to have a bigger problem with malicious software, Apple isn’t exactly virus-free, either.

Employees have a right to use their personal devices as they see fit, but not at the expense of important company information stored in your IT system. Running a tight ship in terms of security is an effective way to protect your business interests and your sensitive company data.

If you are interested in knowing more about developing a concrete and effective IT security policy for personal device use as well as general system access, please don’t hesitate to give us a call so we can sit down with you and discuss a custom security blueprint tailored for your company’s network.

For Small Businesses, Smartphone Security Is As Important As PC Security

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

Although there aren’t any prevalent security attacks or threat mechanisms associated with smartphones in the market today, security vendors and analysts are urging mobile device users to use security best practices on them, just as they would with their computers.

With recent advancements around mobile devices and technologies, particularly smartphone devices, more and more people are staying connected both in the home and office environments.

Analysts at Forrester Research, a leading authority on security in the small business IT space, say the new breed of smartphones, such as Android and iPhone-based devices, are built on operating systems that are “fairly-well locked down.”

However, although they said using these types of devices are generally safer than PCs because malware can’t run on them (yet), there are still privacy and data risks to be aware of.

GPS hacking is just one concern – a rogue phone application sending your location to an outside service without your permission.

Privacy-related issues will emerge as third-party “fake” applications access more of your personal data.

These would be apps that look legitimate, but are designed to steal your personal information.

Fixing this type of issue will be simpler than a PC, though: The operators of the “app stores,” (Apple and Google) can find the offenders and remove them from the sites in a matter of minutes.

Security and privacy are a concern especially for users who bring and work with their personal devices in and out of the workplace.

The safety of the data on those devices becomes an even larger issue.

Smartphones allow business owners and employees to be more connected with each other. Users are sending information via e-mails and through attachments, all of which are susceptible to loss or theft.

Smartphones that are used for business communication should be treated like office PCs when it comes to data protection. The security threat is there – you have to protect the data that’s on the device.

One of the biggest security mistakes customers make with their mobile devices today is that they fail to use even the most basic security protection methods such as passwords.

Most users don’t set up passwords on their mobile device because they think of their smartphone as just a phone.

But really, it’s a small, low-power computer that happens to let you make phone calls, too.

For small business, it’s time to start thinking of smartphones as another entry into your business’ data. If they’re used for business communication, they need to be monitored, protected and updated just like a PC on your network that attaches to your server and financial data.