The phone hacking scandal that’s rocked Britain, shut down the 168-year-old News of the World tabloid, led to the resignation of high ranking British police officials and Downing Street’s communications director, and put Rupert Murdoch in the hot-seat is but one symptom of an overall increase in cell and email snooping.
While the British scandal centers around the hacking of a murdered schoolgirl’s phone, and the subsequent hacking of phones belonging to rich and famous people, relatives of slain servicemen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and possibly the families of British victims of the 9/11 attacks, most cell phone and email hacking is much more mundane.
According to a July 2011 Retrevo Gadgetology Report, snooping by romantic partners via email and cell phone is on the rise. – And they didn’t survey those who are snooping on ex’s.
Among their findings:
- Overall, 33% of respondents said they had checked the email or call history of someone they were dating without them knowing in 2011, up 43% from 23% in 2010.
- 47% of respondents younger than 25 have snooped, up 24% over 2010.
- 41% of women admit to having checked the email/call history of a romantic partner or spouse, 28% higher than the 32% of men who have done so.
- 32% of overall respondents say they would secretly track a spouse/partner using an electronic device if they suspected wrongdoing. This includes 33% of women and 31% of men, giving women a 6% edge.
- 59% of overall parents say they would secretly track a child using an electronic device if they suspected wrongdoing. This includes 64% of mothers and 53% of fathers, making women 21% more likely to snoop on a child.
- Slightly more married couples snoop on their spouses (37%).
- The number of parents snooping is highest among parents of teenagers, with 60% snooping on their kids and possibly for good reason, as 14% of those parents reported finding something they were concerned about.
- Overall, adults are 84% more likely to secretly track a child than a spouse/partner. This differential is 94% for women and 71% for men.
- 34% of parents of children age 13-19 have used Facebook to learn more about the parents of their children’s friends. This makes parents of teens the most likely of all parents of children younger than 20 to snoop on Facebook in this way, followed by parents of children age 6-12 (29%) and children age 0-5 (25%).
9 Steps to avoid becoming a phone or email hacking victim
A few basic precautions can significantly reduce the chances your phone or email will be hacked by friends or romantic partners, ex-friends or -romantic partners, students, teachers, parents, children, or others you know.
- PIN/password protect your cell phone and email. Strong, unique, PIN numbers and passwords are a must. Choosing ‘password’ or something else obvious doesn’t cut it. The same goes for PIN numbers. You must change your phone’s default PIN number to something unique. Choosing easy to guess numbers like your birthdate or ‘1234’ is asking for trouble.
- Once you have created safe logins don’t tell anyone what they are and change them periodically.
- Be consistent about locking your phone and email accounts. All the passwords in the world are useless if you leave your account/phone unlocked and unattended. Make a habit of locking accounts whenever you are not in control of the device – whether it’s your phone or your computer.
- Do not use any automatic sign-in functionality or password reminder tools on shared computers. If you do, everyone who shares the computer may have full access to your accounts. XXXXXX Similarly, many phone services allow you to call your own voicemail without having to enter your PIN if you call from your own phone number. While this is convenient for you, it’s even more convenient for someone else who wants to hear your voice messages. The problem is that your voicemail isn’t actually checking to see if the call came from your phone, it just checks to see if it came from your phone number which is very easy to spoof or fake. All someone has to do is use a service like SpoofCard that allows a user to make their number appear to be whatever number they want it to be – like yours. Then they dial ‘their’ number to hear your messages. By the way, SpoofCard now allows you to spoof SMS’s as well. Just imagine how much additional damage this can cause in the hands of a bully, stalker, or other freak with malicious intent. To best protect yourself, skip the convenience of automatically retrieving your voice messages, and set your voicemail to require your PIN to keep would-be snoopers at bay.
- Use strong, up-to-date security products on your cell phone and computers. All it takes to learn everything on your device is one little piece of malware – and there are only two things between you and an infection: 1) Strong security software, and 2) your ability to spot fraud.
- Strong security software: Most professional hackers collect passwords using malware that has been installed on your computer or mobile phone, and savvier snoopers can do the same. Be sure your anti-virus and anti-malware programs are up to date. Also be sure that any operating system updates are installed. See my blog Are You a Malware Magnet? 4 simple steps can make all the difference and Malware reaches New Highs, Spam Dips; Mobile Malware New Frontier.
- Your ability to spot fraud: Spam and scams come at us from all angles; in the mailbox in front of your home (junk mail) in your email inbox, via IM, social networking sites, chats, forums, websites, and sadly, now also on your phone. Learn these 14 Steps to Avoiding Scams, and practice on some of the examples (scroll further down the webpage) to see how well you can avoid the common consumer pitfalls scammers want you to stumble over.
- Avoid logging into accounts when using public wireless networks – you don’t know if these are safe or compromised. See my blog Like Lambs to the Slaughter? Firesheep Lets Anyone be a Hacker. Since many smartphone users use free WiFi hotspots to access data (and keep their phone plan costs down) smartphones are also more susceptible when leveraging public networks.
- Validate the legitimacy of any program/game/app before downloading it. See my blogs Windows Getting Safer, but Study Finds that 1 of Every 14 Programs Downloaded is Later Confirmed as Malware and More Mobile Apps Caught Inappropriately Collecting User Info and Installing Malware.
- Check your computer and phone for monitoring tools. Family safety tools are designed to help parents protect their children, but all too often these tools are used to monitor spouses, friends, ex’s, etc. To know if you are being monitored – and all your interactions recorded and reported – you’ll need to check for monitoring tools. Online Tech Tips has an article titled How to detect computer & email monitoring or spying software that can be quite helpful.
- On phones, consider who sees your monthly statement. If family members have access to your statements, they can see who you called (phone number look up), who called you, and the times of day these occurred. This is also true of your text messages. If this is more information that you want snooped through, get your own plan and don’t leave your statements lying around.
- Don’t use location tools that track and broadcast your location. There are two types of location tools, those that you can ping to get information like driving directions, and those that track your location to broadcast to others. If you don’t want to be snooped, tracked or stalked, don’t use a tool that can track you.
Applying these precautions to your mobile and email usage will not guarantee that you aren’t snooped or hacked, but they will go a long way towards protecting you from the snoops in your life. If nearly half (47%) of the under-20 crowd are snooping, the non-snooping half had better start defending.