Smartphone security and privacy

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More than 80% of smart device users in Australia are concerned about the security of their personal information when using a smartphone app, according to technology security firm McAfee's survey of more than 1,000 smartphone usersi.

In Australia 76% of mobiles are smartphones, representing one of the highest rates of smartphone penetration in the world.

Australians rely on smartphones more and more for everyday activities such as texting or browsing the Internetii. In fact, according to Telstra, in Australia 76% of mobiles are smartphones, representing one of the highest rates of smartphone penetration in the worldiii. The high use of such devices puts smartphone user privacy and data at risk of theft. Of the smartphone/tablet users surveyed by McAfee, 82% agreed to being at least somewhat concerned about personal information being stolen when downloading apps onto their smart devicesi, while 39% of those surveyed admitted to being either extremely or very concerned about the security of their private informationi.

We look at strategies that consumers, carriers and smartphone manufacturers are taking to combat threats to private data on smartphones.

Get app savvy

Smartphone security is a high priority for consumers who want assurance that their personal information is safe if their smartphone is stolen or lostiv. When smartphone users store passwords, banking details, emails and photos on their phone, they become vulnerable to identity or financial theftv.

To protect your phone from possible hacking and diminished security, there are a few things you can do as a savvy consumer:

  1. When downloading an app, read through the privacy policy or permissions to see if there's anything you disagree with. You might be surprised that a photography app can gain access to your contacts once downloaded, so you may want to reconsider the download on this basis.
  2. Always check that there is a privacy policy. Being unable to find a privacy policy for an app should set off alarm bells: do you really want to download this appvi?
  3. After using an app, such as those for bank or online shopping, make sure to close the web page/app or log off properly. It might be a hassle but it can prevent access to private informationvi.
  4. Malware, which is malicious software specifically designed to disrupt or damage a computer systemvii, can infect your phone via an app. If you think your phone has been affected by malware, you can contact your phone manufacturer's or phone carrier's customer support service for assistance. Alternatively, you can install a security app that aims to detect and remove apps infected by malwareviii.

Proactive steps to safeguard your data

There are features on many smartphones you can use to protect your private data in the event of loss or theft. Apple's "Find my iPhone" app allows users to track missing iPhones and remotely lock or erase data from the phoneix. Once enabled, these security features prevent others from using your phone and accessing your private informationix. The app also allows you to remotely activate an alarm on the phone making it easier to find, or send a message that flashes up on the screen, telling the finder of your iPhone how they can return it to youix.

Smartphones can store passwords, banking details, emails and photos, which leave users vulnerable to identity or financial theft.

Google's hidden feature, only available on Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean), called "App Ops" lets you see the different permissions granted for each app. With this feature, you can find which apps have access to your location, calendar and contacts, and tweak or disable permissions to limit the apps' access to your private informationx. Google also has an app on Android versions 2.2 (Froyo) and up called "Android Device Manager", which lets users remotely locate, call, lock or erase their devicexi.

If your phone is stolen and you're worried about what the thief can access, it's worth familiarising yourself with the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association's (AMTA) free handset blocking programxii,xiii. This program works by blocking handsets that are reported lost or stolen to their respective Australian phone carrierxi. This renders the handset unusable and means that whoever tries to use it once it has been reported stolen or lost cannot use it until it has been unblocked by its owner.

If you're recycling, selling or getting rid of your old phone, don't forget to clear its history and data. This will prevent others from having access to your personal information and will keep you worry-free. A simple web search on how to get rid of your data will outline the steps.

Protecting sensitive data on your phone and smart devices can reduce your risk of identity and financial fraud and is just one part of fully securing your phone. While phone providers offer mobile phone insurance, Allianz covers your smartphone with Contents Insurance which may be more cost effective. In the event of theft or damage, you'll be able to reclaim some or all of the value of the lost phone. Contact Allianz today to see how we can help protect your smart devices.

i McAfee & Harris Interactive 2012, 2012 Online/Mobile shopping habits and security concerns: executive summary, viewed 7 November 2013, p.3

ii Australian Communications and Media Authority, Australian Government 2013, Communications report 2011-12 series: Report 3 – Smartphones and Tablets Take-up and use in Australia, viewed 7 November 2013,

iii Thodey D, 2013, 'Mobile World Congress 2013 wrap up', Telstra News, viewed 7 November 2013,

iv EMarketer 2013, Consumers willing to trade certain types of personal data for offers, viewed 7 November 2013,

v Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Australian Government 2013, Secure your mobile phone and devices, viewed 7 November 2013,

vi Mayer C, 2013, 'Don't Be Dumb About Smartphone Privacy', Forbes, 5 March, viewed 7 November 2013,

vii 'Malware', Oxford English dictionary online, viewed 7 November 2013,

viii Federal Trade Commission 2011, Understanding Mobile Apps, viewed 7 November 2013,

ix Gilbert, J 2011, 'iCloud's Find My iPhone is perfect for the forgetful iPhone owner, and it's free and easy to setup with iOS 5', The Huffington Post, 13 October, viewed 7 November 2013,

x Whitney, L 2013, 'Android 4.3 hidden features lets you tap into app permissions', CNet, 29 July, viewed 7 November 2013,

xi Honorof, M 2013, 'How to Enable Android Device Manager Security', Tom's Guide, 30 September 2013, viewed 7 November 2013,,news-17620.html

xii Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association 2013, Australian anti-theft mobile phone technology highlighted on US television, viewed 7 November 2013,

xiii Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association 2013, IMEI blocking sends clear message to thieves, viewed 7 November 2013,