What do I need to know about mobile devices and social networks?

Mobile devices and social networks are the fastest-growing trends in today’s world of IT.  Even though most of us have a smart phone and may have a Facebook account, we may not have perspective on what’s happening inside the device & the network.  Here is a review of key things to know about mobile & social, and a list of security issues to think about.

Mobile devices

Smartphones are still telephones, they allow you to communicate by voice with people on other phones using the cellular telephone network.  The cell network covers most of the world, but not everywhere.  There will be places where you get “no signal.”

In addition, a smartphone is a complete personal computer, with all the complexity that this implies.  There is an operating system, a network data interface, and all of the application software (apps) that you have decided to run on the smartphone.

Your voice and your data may or may not be carried over the same network.  For example, when your smartphone is near a WiFi base station that it can connect to, your data will be sent and received using that WiFi path rather than the cell network.

Your basic phone subscription fee doesn’t include data transmission, so you’re paying extra to get data service for your phone.  And unless you’re very lucky, you don’t have unlimited data access.  If your data usage goes over a limit, you will pay extra.

The designers who made your smartphone have worked hard to overcome the constraints of the phone, compared with a PC:  the small size of the screen, the absence of a keyboard, and the need to maximize the battery life.  As a result, you’re learning to deal with the digital world using your fingers in a new way.

Extra security issues:

Your smartphone is connected to the cell network all the time. As long as it’s switched on, even when you’re not talking, it is communicating information about where you are back to the network every minute or less.

While you’re using data services of your smartphone, it may switch from a WiFi network to the cell network and back automatically.  This may have implications for how much you’re charged for data, particularly if you’re overseas.

Communications with WiFi networks may be vulnerable to being overheard by other devices and are not as secure as the voice network.

Everyone who uses a smartphone has a certain amount of personal usage.  After all, we all get personal phone calls, receive personal emails & text messages, and browse websites that are not business-related.  So if you’re concerned about employees using their company-provided smartphones for personal goals, quit worrying – they will.

Personal usage also includes music listening and video viewing which can load the data network greatly.  You may need to consider limiting the amount of bandwidth (data network usage) that people in your company use – at least while they’re connected through the cell network.

Your smartphone has a GPS device built in.  So it “knows” where you are all of the time.  In addition, the location information it has can be shared with any App running on the smartphone.  Make sure you want your location information to be shared in this manner.  If you don’t, change the settings on your phone to turn off the GPS location sharing.

Similarly, pay attention to the fact that the web browser on your smartphone keeps a browsing history.  This history may be visible to running Apps on the smartphone.

There are some new apps that have strong security boundaries (see, e.g., a new startup called kumoso.com).  Explore apps like these if you are concerned about the security of your communications.

Coming soon: ads & spam

Have you noticed that you’ve started receiving junk text messages?  I have, and I’m sure it won’t be long until we get spam in many forms on our phones.  Beyond emails, it will include text messages, unwanted pop-up ads in the browser, maybe even unwanted calendar items.

If you’re managing a corporate network of smartphones, you’ll need to add the mobile devices to your list of possible targets for spam and malware.  Get filters (software) that will help keep this stuff off of your mobile devices.

Social networks

Social networks, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, are now being used by nearly everyone who has either a PC or a smartphone.  There can be many advantages to using social networks, including:

having quick access to status information on your colleagues

posting short information to a large number of connected colleagues who need it (such as via Twitter)

connecting with new people using colleagues who are already in your network (such as through LinkedIn)

sharing articles and notes with people who may find it interesting and useful

Here are few things to consider as you indulge in social networks:

1. You have decided that your need for connectivity exceeds your need for privacy.  You actually want to hear from your friends & colleagues about what they’re up to, what they need, what they’ve done or read.  You don’t mind if what you share with them can be seen by anyone who cares to look you up or to Google your name.

2. You don’t mind that your history (what you’ve posted, poked, tweeted & connected to) is a public record.  Always assume that you cannot erase anything you’ve posted or tweeted.  The online record of social media is now a popular way for exploring vulnerabilities or skeletons in the closet of people who are lawsuit targets. Potential employers may search for your tweets to see what you’ve been saying before they offer you a job.

3. You don’t mind being open to well-targeted ads.  The more you share online, the more the advertisers have access to what you’ve expressed an interest in.  They will use this information to make their ads closely match your interests.

Summary of security issues

Be willing to receive all the incoming messages, texts and tweets that are in store for you.

Make sure you want the exposure in a public record of what you’ve shared with others.  Think before you tweet – this may be a permanent record.


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About John Levy

John Levy, Ph.D. is an expert in computers, software and storage who is available for consulting in patent litigation.

For more information, email him at johnlevyexpert.com, or call 415 269-4096.
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