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Smartphones offer a new frontier for identity theft
by Wailin Wong / (c) 2010, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
As more people switch from traditional cell phones to smartphones, worries have increased that users will fall prey to the same virus and malware problems that can plague personal computers.
In fact, industry experts say they're managing to keep ahead of that threat. What they are more worried about is a simpler issue: identity theft when a phone is lost or stolen. With the iPhone and other smartphones, a few taps or clicks can access e-mail accounts, check bank balances, update a Facebook profile and call up calendars and photos.
"A mobile phone is not a good candidate for a botnet like you have in the PC world, where it can enslave your computer and let it do work to send spam or whatever," said Peter Beardmore of security company Kaspersky Lab. "But [a mobile phone] is a great candidate to steal user data from."
As part of an effort to broaden its Norton line beyond PC security, Symantec Corp. recently launched an application for Google's Android operating system that allows users to remotely lock down or wipe their phone by texting a code to the device.
Symantec's product is not the first of its kind to hit the market. But consumer awareness of mobile security issues is still relatively low, given that threats have been rare and smartphones are just beginning to take off outside of the BlackBerry-toting business world.
So far, carriers, device manufacturers and other industry players have done an effective job of vetting applications from outside developers, Beardmore said. But he and other security experts advise that consumers stick with programs from trusted publishers.
One of the biggest challenges for the wireless industry is consumer education.
"Maybe because of [the phone's] 24-hour presence, we do take [it] for granted and don't think about the sophistication or the complexity ... of that device," said John Walls of industry group CTIA.
"This thing is living and breathing and working all the time."