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Federal Agencies Post Security Warnings and Recommendations for Mobile Phones
by Ira Wilsker
Now that the spring semester is starting, it is quite obvious that almost all of my college students have and are using smart phones and other digital communications devices for much more than the traditional calling function. One of my daughters is teaching high school, and almost all of her students have a smart phone. Going to a nice restaurant for dinner shows that almost all of the patrons check their smart phones to some degree. We are seeing frequent TV commercials about using the "Near Field Communications" (NFC) feature now built into most newer smart phones as a method of secure retail payment instead of swiping a plastic credit card or writing a check. With the near universal use of smart phones and related devices in our daily lives, it is inevitable that crooks and other dishonest people will find a way to illicitly capitalize on the popularity of these devices. The security risks prevalent on the use of these devices has caught the attention of several federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and other federal agencies, all of whom have posted "security checkers" and other tips on properly securing our smart devices.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has posted online an operating system specific "Smartphone Security Checker" at fcc.gov/smartphone-security. This security checker offers explicit information and recommendations for devices running Android, Apple iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone. Selecting one of the operating systems, and then clicking on the "Generate Your Checker" icon will display appropriate instructions for your device. Since I have both an Android phone and an Android tablet, and Android has over 75% of the smart device market, I selected the Android option. The recommendations displayed for the other operating systems was very similar to that displayed for Android.
The security checker displayed for Android devices was headed, "Ten Steps to Smartphone Security for Android", and explains how these security guidelines could reduce the exposure and risk of mobile cybersecurity threats if they are implemented. The 10 steps recommended by the FCC for Android devices (and very similar to those for the other smart device operating systems), are:
1. Set PINs and passwords. To prevent unauthorized access to your phone, set a password or Personal Identification Number (PIN) on your phone’s home screen as a first line of defense in case your phone is lost or stolen. ... configure your phone to automatically lock after five minutes or less when your phone is idle, as well as use the SIM password capability ...
2. Do not modify your smartphone’s security settings. ... Tampering with your phone’s factory settings, jailbreaking, or rooting your phone undermines the built-in security features offered by your wireless service and smartphone ...
3. Backup and secure your data. You should backup all of the data stored on your phone – such as your contacts, documents, and photos. These files can be stored on your computer, on a removal storage card, or in the cloud.
4. Only install apps from trusted sources. ... Many apps from untrusted sources contain malware that once installed can steal information, install viruses, and cause harm to your phone’s contents.
5. Understand app permissions before accepting them. You should be cautious about granting applications access to personal information on your phone or otherwise letting the application have access to perform functions on your phone. Make sure to also check the privacy settings for each app before installing.
6. Install security apps that enable remote location and wiping. An important security feature widely available ... is the ability to remotely locate and erase all of the data stored on your phone, even if the phone’s GPS is off. In the case that you misplace your phone, some applications can activate a loud alarm, even if your phone is on silent. ...
7. Accept updates and patches to your smartphone’s software. ...
8. Be smart on open Wi-Fi networks. When you access a Wi-Fi network that is open to the public, your phone can be an easy target of cybercriminals. You should limit your use of public hotspots and instead use protected Wi-Fi from a network operator you trust or mobile wireless connection to reduce your risk of exposure, especially when accessing personal or sensitive information. ...
9. Wipe data on your old phone before you donate, resell, or recycle it. Your smartphone contains personal data you want to keep private when you dispose your old phone.
10. Report a stolen smartphone. The major wireless service providers, in coordination with the FCC, have established a stolen phone database. If your phone is stolen, you should report the theft to your local law enforcement authorities and then register the stolen phone with your wireless provider. This will provide notice to all the major wireless service providers that the phone has been stolen and will allow for remote “bricking” of the phone so that it cannot be activated on any wireless network without your permission.
As more of us are using the Near Field Communications (NFC) feature available on most of our smart phones as a secure method of payment at retail stores, restaurants, gas stations, and at other sellers of goods and services, we must also be cognizant of the security threats and safety precautions necessary when using these "mobile wallets". Some of the widely used mobile wallets include Google Wallet, Apple's Apple Pay, eBay's PayPal, CurrentC (a joint effort of Sears, Target, and WalMart, CVS, and others), GoSoftCard (joint effort of American Express, Chase, and Wells Fargo), and several others. Supposedly these mobile payment services provide greater security and benefits than using a plastic credit or debit card, and award appropriate "points" on the credit card backing several of the services. The method of using the NFC features on many of our phones is quick and simple; the appropriate app (probably connected to an existing credit or debit card account) is opened, and the phone is held near the point of sale (POS) terminal to complete the transaction. As an added level of security, most of the payment apps also require the user to enter a PIN, fingerprint, or other method of verification on the phone prior to completing the transaction. The seller only has verification that a payment to them has been processed, but does not have access to credit card numbers and other personal information. Since the seller does not have this information from the payment process, cyber hacks such as what happened at Target, Home Depot, and other retailers would not capture our private, financial, and personal information.
Being aware of the rapidly increasing use of these alternative digital payment systems, the FCC published "Mobile Wallet Services Protection" online at fcc.gov/guides/mobile-wallet-services-protection. While the actual point of sale transactions are reasonably secure when these digital wallets are used, the primary risk is the loss or theft of a smartphone containing the electronic wallet apps. The use of a PIN, fingerprint, or other verification at the time of the transaction provides good security, they are not perfect, and may be vulnerable to a miscreant in possession of a lost or stolen smart phone. Since many consumers are inherently complacent, and use the same or other easy to guess PIN numbers to access multiple resources (such as an ATM), PIN numbers are the most vulnerable of the primary verification methods.
In the "How to Safeguard Your Mobile Wallet Smartphone" guidelines are several "common sense" tips to protect our mobile digital wallets. We need to be aware of our surroundings, and protect our PIN and other verification modes from prying eyes, as well as very short range electronic interception (sometimes an innocuous looking device adjacent to the POS terminal), often within about four inches or 10 centimeters. If using an electronic wallet for paying for online purchases or other remote financial transactions, do not use an insecure, open, Wi-Fi network, as the information can be readily intercepted at distances of up to several hundred feet. Smartphones are popular items to steal, and can also be innocently lost. The FCC says, "Never leave your smartphone unattended in a public place. Don't leave it visible in an unattended car; lock it up in the glove compartment or trunk." If you have not already done so, write down the identifiers of your device, and store them in a secure but accessible location; these identifiers can often be found on the device in the battery compartment, or under Settings - About Phone, as well as on the box the phone came in. This information may be needed in a police report, which should be filed if the phone is stolen. All phones have a unique serial number called an International Mobile Equipment Identifier (IMEI), sometimes also called a Mobile Equipment Identifier (MEID). This unique IMEI or MEID can also be displayed on most phones by dialing *#06# (asterisk - pound - zero-six-pound), which should be recorded, and used to definitively identify a phone. Provide this information to your carrier when reporting the loss of the device to them.
In terms of financial liability for the illicit use of a digital wallet on a lost or stolen phone, the terms of service for that app should be reviewed, but in general the limitations on financial loss are similar to those for the use of the plastic credit or debit card behind the app. As with any other debit or credit instrument, check the online and monthly statements for questionable or unauthorized charges, and follow the issuer's instructions for resolving the discrepancies.
The FCC also recommends that smart device users install and maintain security software and appropriate apps that can be used to locate a missing device (even if the GPS is turned off); remotely lock the device (even if only "temporarily" lost); wipe sensitive information off of the device after sending a remote command; and even sound a loud alarm or other sound (some apps call it a "scream"), which will be sounded even if the device is on "silent" or "vibrate", which can be used to locate a device, especially if "lost" at home, work, or in the car. Users may also want to display limited contact information on the "lock screen", which may allow an honest person to return a found phone. The FCC also warns about the personal information stored by social networking sites and internal apps that may allow unauthorized access to personal information. Also, in the event of a theft or loss, go online using another device and change all of your critical and wallet passwords and security questions.
Our smart phones and other intelligent devices have (arguably) done much to enhance our daily lives, as we make more use of them and find new and innovative ways to benefit from them. As important as these devices have become to us personally, we must also do what we can to secure them and their data, and protect the devices from loss.
ANDROID SECURITY APPS (directory, reviews, and ratings):
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Music and Video Files: Modify them to your needs.
By Phil Sorrentino, Contributing Columnist, STUG, FL
June 2014 issue, PC Monitor
philsorr (at) yahoo.com
Music and Video files that you produce with your video camera, or voice recorder, are not always exactly what you want. Now, I’m not suggesting that you can change the artistic quality of the file, but that you can change the file length or size to accommodate your particular needs. With either an audio or a video file, the particular file may be too long, or it may contain sections that are not needed. So, it would be nice to be able to cut off the beginning, the end, or remove a slice somewhere in between. I’m sure there are many other ways to accomplish these tasks, but I have found that Windows Movie Maker (to modify video files) and Audacity (to modify audio or music files) are good choices, and both of these software applications are free. Windows Movie Maker is provided by Microsoft and can be downloaded at www.windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/get-movie-maker-download, and Audacity is provided by Sourceforge and can be downloaded at www.sourceforge.net/download.
A multi-media presentation, or “movie” as Movie Maker (and many other commercial packages) calls it, is a collection of pictures, videos, and music, organized as a movie, used to tell a story. It may be the story of your latest vacation, your last birthday, the last big holiday, your youngest grandchild, or a pictorial history of someone, something, or some organization. If you have appropriate pictures, videos, and music, Movie Maker can easily put them together to create a movie to express your particular point of view. So, obtaining the pictures, videos and music is usually the first step in producing your movie. Pictures are probably the easiest; you just review the pictures, improve their quality if needed, and then put them is an appropriate sequence. Videos are a little more difficult because they usually need to be shortened, and possibly have inappropriate sections removed. Music, or audio, is easy if you have good recordings, but sometimes you may want to remove certain portions, like bad scratches or pops, or a long lead-in or long lead-out. Or you might only want a few words out of a lengthy oration.
Movie Maker can be used as a tool for modifying video clips. (Once the video clips are the way you want, you can then add them to your movie.) After opening Movie Maker, click “add videos and photos”, and navigate to the video clip that you want to modify. Select the video clip and it will be added as the only item in your movie. The video clip will be imported and shown as a series of Video blocks. Now you can play your video clip using the Play and Pause buttons, and identify the pieces to be removed. Select “Edit”, under Video Tools, and you will see the “Split” tool. Move the Movie Cursor (the dark vertical bar) to the first point where you would like to split the video. If you are going to remove the beginning, move to the point where you would like the video to begin. Click the Split tool. This will create two videos, one before the split and one after the split. Right click the video piece to be removed and select “Remove”. This will delete that piece of the video. Now you can move through the video and identify pieces to remove and pieces to keep. Just move the Cursor to the locations to split the video and use the Split tool. Then Remove the unwanted pieces and save the good piece as a new video with a new name. Usually you will find pieces to keep and pieces to remove interspersed. If you want to save many pieces, you will probably have to find a piece to save and delete everything else, and then start over with the original video and isolate the next piece and delete everything else. So it may be very tedious if you want to save a lot of small pieces from one larger video, but it will surely be worth the time and effort. Once you have video pieces, you can join them by starting with a “File-New” movie and adding the video pieces using “add videos and photos”. Put them in the proper sequence and add a “transition” in between so they will flow smoothly, then save it as a new video.
Audacity is an Audio Editor and Recorder. Audacity is very comprehensive and can do many things. One of those things is that it can be used as a tool for modifying audio (sound or music) files. After opening Audacity, click File-Open and navigate to the audio clip that you want to modify. The audio clip will be imported and shown as a graph of the amplitude of the audio. (Both Left and Right channels will be displayed if the audio is in stereo). Now you can Play your clip using the Play and Pause buttons and identify the pieces to be removed. No, or very low, volume periods will be indicated by just a horizontal line with no amplitude. The Audio Cursor can be placed on the recording by Right-clicking on a point in the recording. A section of the recording can be selected by pressing the Right Mouse button while on the recording, and dragging the Mouse to the end of the area to be selected. Then using the File-Export Selection, the selected section can be saved as a new audio file with a new name. I found this tool very helpful in separating multiple cuts from an audio recording of a complete side of a vinyl recording (a record album for those of us over 40). I had converted my old vinyl recordings to .mp3 files, just before giving them away. To save time I converted the recordings a side at a time. So for each vinyl album I ended up with two .mp3 files, each about 20 to 25 minutes, and each having 12 to 16 cuts (songs) in each .mp3 file. So, the individual songs were separated by about 2 seconds of silence (no amplitude), making them easy to identify, once you have listened to the cut using Audacity.
As you can see from these basic directions for modifying a video file with Movie Maker and an audio file with Audacity, the process is very similar, even though the displays look very different and the displayed file representations look very different. The results are very similar too; it’s a modified file that will be useful in your next Movie Making project.
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