It’s not Just British Tabloids; Cell &Email Snooping is Increasing

August 3, 2011

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.

  1. 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.
    1. Once you have created safe logins don’t tell anyone what they are and change them periodically.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

Linda

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Smartphone Users Are Mostly Young, Minorities, or Wealthy; This Needs to be Reflected in How We Teach Net Literacy

July 19, 2011

If you don’t have a smartphone, chances are you are older, white, less affluent, and don’t have a college degree according to new research by the Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Project. No longer primarily a status symbol, smartphones have become the primary internet access point for millions of users, but there are large differences between who uses these phones, and how they use them.

It turns out the phone you use says a lot about you, for example, you are likely to have a smartphone if:

  • You’re younger than 50 – more than half of 18-29-year-olds own smartphones, followed by 45% of 30-to-49-year-olds. For those over 50 there is a steep cliff; only 24% of 50-to-64-year-olds use a smartphone.
  • You earn over $75k – nearly 60% of American’s who earn over 75k own smartphones. The percentage drops to about 37% among those earning between $50 -$74k annually. Note: smartphone penetration is slightly higher (40%) in the next-lowest income bracket, those earning $30 – $49k annually; this may be due to this group using their smartphone more often as their primary internet connection.
  • You’re a college grad – nearly half (48%) of college grads own smartphones, compared to 38% of those with some college education, 27% of high school grads, and 18% of those with less than a high school diploma.
  • You live in an urban or suburban area – geography matters; 38% of both suburban and urban residents own smartphones compared to 21% of rural residents.
  • You aren’t white – 44% of both blacks and Hispanics have smartphones; nearly 50% higher than the 30% smartphone ownership rate found among whites.

How you use your phone also says a lot about you. You are more likely to use your smartphone as your primary means of connecting to the internet if:

  • You’re younger than 30 – 42% of 18-to-29-year-olds say they most often use their smartphone for web access, which is twice as often as 30-to-49-year-olds (21%) and more than four times as often as smartphone owners 50 and older (10%).
  • You are in the lowest income bracket – 40% of smartphone owners with a household income less than $30,000 a year use their phone as their primary internet access, compared to 29% of those earning between $30 – $49k  and 17% of smartphone owners with household income more than $50k
  • You belong to an ethnic minority – 38% of black and Latino smartphone owners primarily use their phones for web access, more than double the 17% of white smartphone owners who do so.
  • You are less educated – 33% of smartphone owners with only a high school diploma primarily use their phones for web access compared to 27% of smartphone owners with some college education, and 13% of smartphone owners with a college degree.

These findings have significant implications for how we teach and implement online safety, security, privacy and digital citizenship.

Beyond simply being interesting stats, the picture painted by the data has significant bearing on how companies need to display their privacy settings and terms of use, how proposed legislation is developed, the importance of mobile security tools, and how online safety, security, privacy, digital literacy and ethics are taught at school and implemented in homes.

For companies:

  • How are you going to ensure that mobile only users can easily read your terms of use and privacy policies, and select their safety settings? The small screen experience needs to be optimized to give users easy control.
  • If the least wealthy are the most likely to use the phone as their primary access, how does the cost of mobile security apps impact their ability to protect their devices, their identities, and their sensitive information? They will need free, or very low cost, mobile security apps. Should these be offered as a bundle in their service? How will you drive awareness of this need?

For Regulators:

  • Writing legislative proposals about internet safety, security, privacy or education that does not fully cover mobile internet experiences and risks is unacceptably shortsighted. Even when using the same technologies and services as computers, mobile devices bring their own set of risks and opportunities into play and these must be addressed simultaneously.

For parents:

For Schools:

  • Blocking technology is not the answer, yet far too many schools still think this is the best course of action. We need to teach students to be capable digital citizens on all internet devices to be prepared for the workforce environment they will step into. You must figure out how to embrace and incorporate technology.
  • Recognizing that the way youth use technologies, the amount of time they spend on technologies, and the economic divide in the use and access of technologies is critical in effectively incorporating technology as a learning tool – particularly for minority youth. To learn more, see my blog Minority Youth Spend 13 Hours A day With Media – 4 ½ More than White Youth – What Does this Mean for Their Future?
  • Kids can readily use technologies, but that does not mean they understand the real risks or consequences that can accompany these tools. It is absurd that teaching internet safety/security/privacy/digital literacy/ethics is not mandatory in every school. To help you address this shortfall, the LOOKBOTHWAYS FOUNDATION has begun creating the K-12 NetSkills4Life curriculum, made freely available to schools, families, organizations and the public. The first two online interactive lessons for 6th graders are in place, and we will be rolling out more lessons for all grades as quickly as we can and funding is available.

Linda


WebSafety’s CellSafety Product Review

August 31, 2010

I’ve had several consumers ask me recently about the company WebSafety and their new mobile phone product CellSafety. Here are my thoughts:

Company Impression:  problematic credibility

WebSafety’s development team has a strong law enforcement and prosecutorial background. This is both a strength and a weakness. While they’ve been ‘in the trenches’ to know the issues, their solutions are heavy handed.

To be clear, any company in the business of providing protection services to consumers has to first overcome one hurdle – convincing people that they need protection.  However, how a company goes about making that business case can vary dramatically.

WebSafety’s mission statement makes it clear from the start that they’ve chosen to go the fear and sensationalism route and it shoots their credibility to pieces right from their home page. “To enable parents to protect their children from the dangerous cellular and online worlds through advanced software systems.”

Neither the cellular nor the online worlds are dangerous; instead some elements within these have risks, and those risks range from low to high probability of occurrence and low to high potential consequences.

Our jobs as individuals and parents is to assess these risks as they relate to our own, or our children’s, unique circumstances and take appropriate measures. Fear messaging makes choosing appropriate measures more, rather than less, complicated and these messages therefore do more harm than good.

The CellSafety Product:

I am concerned about the lack of real information about the company’s CellSafety product. Beyond their dropdown bullet points (shown below), I can’t find any information that let’s me understand how these services work, what level of management I have over each feature, what level of transparency about the monitoring is provided to youth (and, keep in mind these could be used against a spouse, an ex- or other person as easily as against a child) – or even what “AND MUCH MORE…..” is.  There is no material about discussing safe texting with kids, or any educational material whatsoever.

Particular points of concern:

Their CellSafety Product: In a press release, CellSafety said it “uses proprietary technology to electronically detect when a car is moving at speeds above 10mph and prohibits the driver’s ability to send or read text and email messages or utilize the phone web browser.” In their bullet list they say “passengers can ask parents for permission!” presumably to override the automatic blocking of passengers ability to text, as all that can be detected by their product is that a phone is in a moving car, not whether the person trying to text is the driver.

  • What about legitimate cases where the passenger is using the driver’s phone? Blocking that could put the users at risk.
  • What stops the driver from using a passengers unblocked phone?
  • What happens if the passenger can’t contact their parent to get permission?

CellSafety also claims they can “ensure that a driver’s eyes are on the road and off their phone”. Really?

  • People play games on their phones while driving
  • People dial numbers when driving
  • People surf and read email when driving.

No outside element can ensure where the driver’s eyes are – or aren’t. And while I’m strongly against texting while driving, (see below for  blogs I’ve written on this topic) I think we’ve lost sight that ANY form of distracted driving is wrong. Should we get an product that will stop someone from applying mascara while driving, shaving while driving, yelling at kids in the back seat while driving, or being drunk off their rocker while driving?

The company mixes statistics in a manner that is sloppy, and misleading. In the same press release about their CellSafety product designed to block texting while driving, WebSafety states that “Distracted driving is one of the most serious, life-threatening practices on our nation’s roadways with almost 8,000 crashes related to distracted driving occurring daily in the United States.” I assume this is a true statement, but that is not a statistic about texting while driving – the problem they propose to solve – it’s a statistic about ALL distracted driving.

This statistical blurring continues with their CEO Rowland Day stating “Consumers mistakenly believe they will not be the victim of, or responsible for, a distracted driving incident which is why the CellSafety application is so vital in order to stop the deadly social obsession of texting-while-driving.” Again, the implication is that all distracted driving is texting when driving, and we all know that isn’t the case.

The CellSafety mobile application also includes additional features which inhibit texting in school via “No Texting Zones” in order to prevent scholastic cheating as well as notifications in real-time if users are sending or receiving inappropriate text messages.” There is nothing wrong with a kid texting while at school; in fact there are very legitimate reasons for doing so. Cheating is wrong. Texting when you should be participating is wrong. But texting during lunch? Texting your mother about after school plans? Getting a text from your father about where he’s going to pick you up from? Sending your mom a reminder to bring your soccer shoes?

What I see is a product that is more designed to ‘catch’ than to educate kids. That hasn’t gotten past the sledgehammer approach to blocking, filtering and reporting to design meaningful services that create constructive, collaborative safety environments for families.

I think the intent behind the company and their services is good, the execution is lacking.

Additional blog posts on Texting and Driving:

Linda