In a Multi-device World, Expect More Risks to Your Online Security


Humanity reached an important mobile milestone this year. There are now more mobile devices than people on the planet, according to Cisco data. Not surprisingly, part of what’s feeding the mobile frenzy is the growing number of consumers who own more than one device.  A quarter of U.S. consumers are digital omnivores – meaning they own a laptop, a smartphone and a tablet – according to the 2013 Deloitte “State of Media Democracy” study.

Consumers are not only using more mobile devices for their daily activities, they’re using more than one device at the same time.  A new study by the global research agency Millward Brown found that multi-device owners love to multi-task:  They consume seven hours of media in five hours a day – performing activities like watching TV while they’re working on their iPad and talking with friends on their smartphone.  

In the U.S. and the UK, more than 60% of online adults use at least two devices every day, according to a new study by GfK commissioned by Facebook. What’s more, as multiple devices become an essential part of our daily lives, switching between them is becoming a standard practice.  More than 40% of those surveyed sometimes start an activity on one device but finish it on another.  For example, online shoppers often browse using their smartphones and buy using their tablets. When switching devices, users may relay task-related information from one device to another.  In this case, shoppers may email themselves a link or log-in to re-open a shopping cart from a phone to review and complete check-out from a tablet.

How the Quest For Convenience and Comfort Can Lead to More Cybercrime 

But what most consumers don’t realize is that the more devices they use for e-shopping, online banking, social networking and gaming, the greater the risks to their online security. Each mobile device gives cybercriminals another access point they can exploit.

For example, let’s say you’re in the habit of using open WiFi hotspots without using a VPN to secure your data. While you’re sipping a latte, you unknowingly connect to a fake WiFi hotspot using both your phone and your tablet.  Because you have the same lax security practices on both devices, the Evil Twin can grab all the wireless data from your two devices in a single attack. 

The online security dangers don’t stop there. If you’ve downloaded malware onto your smartphone, it’s likely that you’ve done the same thing on your tablet. There’s a good chance you’re spread the infection to all mobile devices running the same operating system under the same user account. It could happen this way: You install an Android app from the Google Play store on your phone which turns out to be malware. You have probably linked that app to your Google account; and you have very likely installed it on your Android tablet, too. (The same is true for iPhones and iPads, although malware is less common there).

More Mobile Devices But Fewer Security Measures

You would think that smartphone and tablet owners would be especially concerned about the increased risks to their online security. But unfortunately, quite the opposite is true. Most fail to take the same measures to secure their mobile devices that they do with their computers. Tablet and smartphone owners expose themselves to unique threats, according to the 2014 Javelin Strategy & Research Identity Fraud Report. It found less than half use security software, leaving them open to malicious downloads.

The same kind of cavalier consumer behavior is evident on public WiFi, according to a recent survey by Kaspersky Lab and B2B International. A third of participants reported taking no additional security measures when they connect to WiFi hotspots. Without encrypting communications between the user and the access point, it’s incredibly easy for a cybercriminal to intercept all the data a user sends and receives over a hotspot. 

Given smartphone and tablet owners’ poor online hygiene, it’s not surprising that they’re favorite targets for identity fraud. Javelin’s 2012 report revealed that one out of every seven smartphone owners was a victim. And its 2013 report found that nearly one out of ten tablet owners had their identity stolen.  

Remember, the more unsecured mobile devices you use, the greater your chances of becoming a victim of identity fraud. Your data and your accounts are only as secure as the least protected device that touches them.

Protect Your Devices and Security

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself:

  • Install firewall and anti-malware apps on your mobile devices and install app and OS updates as soon as they’re available.
  • Make sure your passwords are long and strong – a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols that can’t easily be cracked.  Use different passwords for each site and don’t automatically save them.
  • Check with the establishment for the name of its hotspot before you connect. Be on the lookout for unusual variations in the logo or name of the establishment displayed on the login page. That could be a sign it’s an Evil Twin – a fake hotspot designed to steal your data.   
  • Avoid connecting to any network name with two little computer symbols. If you do, you would be connecting to someone else’s computer, not a legit hotspot.             
  • Disable features that automatically connect your device to any available network. This will prevent you from accidentally connecting to a fake WiFi hotspot or to someone’s computer.  
  • Before you connect to any hotspot, disable printer and file sharing options.                                                                                                  
  • Avoid websites that don’t have secure login pages, indicated by the padlock in your browser and https in the URL. But remember, an encrypted website only protects the information transmitted to and from that site. It doesn’t protect all the information sent over a public WiFi hotspot. Even worse, security researchers have found vulnerabilities in https. It’s far from foolproof.
  • Log out of websites and turn off your WiFi connection when you’re not using it.
  • Use a VPN like PRIVATE WiFi to encrypt the data travelling to and from all your mobile devices. No matter how you choose to move task-related information from one device to another, a VPN offers baseline protection against eavesdropping on your data.
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