Top Tips for Securing Mobile Toys During the Christmas Gift-fest

By Tony Rizzo December 20, 2012

You can never be too secure or too safe! It deserves an exclamation point for the simple reason that most consumers simply aren't that careful when it comes to securing either mobile devices or even - after all these years, desktops and laptops. This year in particular we also need to add tablets and, believe it or not, gaming consoles to the list.

There is absolutely no doubt that tablets and smartphones (and perhaps new Android-based toys such as Samsung's newly available Galaxy Camera) will be at the top of everyone's holiday wish lists. New mobile toys are exciting to use, and we've yet to meet any consumers who won't rush to immediately load personal data, contact information, photos and applications to their new devices and then hop over to Facebook (or if they are more sophisticated, over to Twitter). Long time security vendor McAfee, however, says it is vital to provide some initial restraint, and to secure the new toys before hopping the mobility train to your social sites or elsewhere.

Not convinced there is anything to worry about? Check out our recent 2013 mobility security threats article on what awaits the unsuspecting mobile user! New mobile devices are typically completely unprotected and can be vulnerable to numerous online risks designed to steal personal information. What to do? McAfee strongly suggests ensuring that all devices are as secure as possible, and the company has compiled some highly useful tips for doing so. 

Image via Shutterstock

Cybercriminals continue to widen their nets to target even more devices and platforms, as new devices come on the market and gain popularity - especially those based on Android. McAfee Labs reports that smishing (or phishing text messages), PC, Mac, and mobile device malware, and malicious mobile websites are on the rise. This ratcheting up directly parallels Android’s hyper-growth and gives it the distinction of being the most targeted operating system for mobile threats.

Wireless devices also present the risk of being hijacked by hackers when used over public Wi-Fi, where networks are usually not secure. Gaining access to your mobile device in this manner is clearly on the rise, but mobile users remain typically unaware of the real emerging threats here.

Nor are threats limited strictly to the adults among us in the room. At least we should know better. But keep in mind that untold numbers of kids are acquiring more gaming and entertainment devices than ever, including iPads, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii - all of which are now Internet-connected. Aside from the malware susceptibility, kids can also put their parents at risk by downloading hundreds of dollars’ worth of apps while playing their favorite games and inadvertently charging their parents accounts simply by entering device passwords.

Finally, all of us are now carrying around more devices, creating multiple potential points of hacking entry into our lives. As Gary Davis, vice president of global consumer marketing at McAfee points out, “This holiday season will further contribute to the trend of consumers having three or more devices to meet their online lifestyle needs. With the increased amount of devices per person - and this multiplies quite a bit when you take an entire household into consideration - comes the greatly increased chance of cybercriminals gaining access and stealing personal information and data. Consumers deserve to have confidence that they can live their digital lives sharing any information, from anywhere and on any device without the risk of an attack or scam. But it's got to be knowingly managed from the consumer end. The best way to ensure this is to take the time to secure personal data as soon as consumers open their new tech gifts.”

McAfee encourages consumers to take some simple precautions to keep their digital lives and devices safe through the holidays and into 2013. Yes, some of these tips may sound obvious, but as most consumers remain blissfully unaware of such obviousness - this is the crux of the matter - we need to take the time to point these things out and encourage everyone to take real action.

Mobile Devices

Know that threats aimed at mobile phones are growing, with Android being the most targeted platform. And keep in mind that threats aimed at Android smartphones can also affect Android tablets. Apple has an advantage here because Apple's is a closed system, but even there threats are slowly emerging.

Be careful of the third-party applications you install. They can easily end up infecting your smartphone or sharing your personal information. Only download applications from a reputable app store, and read users' reviews. Also, make sure you are aware and pay particular attention to in-app purchases and of the kind of information these app are likely to want to access.

In the US, 62 percent of smartphone users don’t use a password to protect their home screens. Always restrict access to your phone with a password or PIN. This is simple to do and involves very little pain - certainly there is no comparison between the tiny bit of effort required and the potentially enormous pain should your phone be breached and your personal data or identity be stolen. A password will go a long way here to protect you.

Phishing text messages - also known as known as “SMiShing” - are on the rise. What this means is simple - never ever send personal information via text. You should also protect data on your phone by backing it up on a regular basis and using a product that can easily restore your information, help locate a lost phone, and remotely lock and wipe the device if it is lost or stolen.

Apply system or application updates as soon as they become available. Often these updates are created specifically to provide patches for security holes. Apply any system or application updates when prompted.

Turn off antennas you don’t need. This is also very easy to do - especially with Android smartphones - there is no excuse for not doing so. If you’re not using any one of the four typical wireless connections that your smartphone and tablet supports - cellular, Wi-FI, Bluetooth and GPS) - then turn them off. It will help keep you safe and as an added bonus will give you the best battery life.

McAfee has a very useful blog that is worth reading on the issue of securing your devices.

Gaming Consoles

If your kid has a new gaming or entertainment device, such as a Nintendo Wii or 3DS, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, keep in mind that these devices are now Internet-connected. Make sure to set controls to prevent children from Internet dangers.

Block access when it makes sense to do so. Always take advantage of built-in parental controls and Web filtering tools that will help shield kids from violent games or limit when a device can be used. Parents should also especially make sure to set expectations with kids about who they play with, as Wi-Fi connected gaming consoles allow the installation of text and chatting/texting capabilities

PCs and Macs

Yes, your desktops and laptops are ever more vulnerable to online and Internet/Web hacks. Always ensure that you search and shop safely.

McAfee Labs counted 43.4 million suspect websites during the third quarter of 2012 alone, up 20 percent over the previous quarter. To help weed through malicious sites, be sure to use a website safety advisor that can tell you which sites are safe and which are risky.

Always be aware of “scareware” and “ransomware.” These can be particularly nasty. The human inclination is to "click for safety" as soon as you see such a message. Kids and older users such as grandparents are even more susceptible. Teach them to be aware and to call you rather than to click should such messages pop up.

Scareware typically tricks users into believing that the computer may be infected to get them to “buy” fake antivirus software and hand over their personal and financial details, usually via pop-ups. Ransomware also appears through pop-ups, and typically accuses Web surfers of visiting illegal webpages. These pop-ups claim to be from the police and threaten to lock up the user’s computer system until they pay a fine. Other ransomware may actually take over your computer and prevent access or threaten to destroy if (e.g. may threaten to wipe your hard disk and firmware if a "ransom" isn't paid. According to McAfee Labs, ransomware grew by 43 percent in Q3 2012, while scareware continues to thrive, and is estimated to victimize one million people a day.

As we noted, these all seem obvious, yet the more operative phrase is that people tend to be oblivious to the obvious when it comes to online and mobile security. It comes down to three letters this holiday season: CYA.

Edited by Brooke Neuman

TechZone360 Senior Editor

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