More and more of us are wising up to the problems that can be caused by having our computers hacked or from being the victim of browser jacking or identity theft caused by malicious software but how many of us stop to think about the damage that could be caused via our smartphones? We’re so used to our smartphones that we take it as granted that we can connect to the internet, use online apps and download our emails –amongst a myriad of other things – and it wasn’t so long ago that we only used our cell phones for making phone calls and sending SMS messages, so how did we get so blasé and forget to take smartphone security into account too?
In 2012 it was revealed that a smartphone social network, who shall remain nameless here, was guilty of ‘unexpected data handling’ and that they were storing their users’ contact lists on their servers. They were not the only ones either so it is crucial that we know exactly what access apps that we’ve installed have to our phones. And it goes without saying that we should also be able to take control of that access via our smartphone’s settings.
Luckily one of the biggest smartphone manufacturers, Apple, agrees with that and since iOS 6 was released Apple give users more ability to control their permissions and settings. To access the privacy controls simply go to your iPhone or iPad’s ‘Settings’ and choose ‘Privacy’.
Here, instead of listing all applications that you have installed Apple examines individual requests from the apps and places them in this section to allow you to easily see who is requesting access to what.
Top of the list is perhaps the most obvious one: Location Services. As you know an awful lot of apps need to know where you are in order to work properly and therefore you may want to leave the setting on overall. You will find the option to disable Location Services but then you’ll find that you won’t be getting updated weather reports or you won’t be able to use any app that works by finding nearby people, restaurants or hotels on a map. Similarly trying to pinpoint your location will be impossible if you’re traveling. Having said this, there are a lot of apps that don’t actually need to know your whereabouts, so feel free to turn Locations Services off individually for these.
At the bottom of the Location Services screen you will see a menu called ‘System Services’. If you choose this you’ll see a number of options including ‘Location-Based iAds’. What this does is allow apps you’ve installed to show you adverts targeted to your location. Pretty annoying, huh? Disable this option and whilst you might still receive the odd advert which has sneaked through it should at least limit them.
It probably goes without saying that some of the most personal information stored on your iPhone is in your photo albums and in your address books and calendars so this is where you really need to make sure your phone’s security is not letting third parties access anything and it is well worth going through them all one by one. Just like Location Services you will find the names of the apps requesting access under the relevant sub menus and just like Location Services, stopping access could have an effect on the usability of the app e.g. your contact list might be linked to an instant messenger so if you turn off access you may disable the app. It all depends how important your privacy is to you.
If you’ve downloaded an application that wants to access Bluetooth this will show under ‘Bluetooth Sharing’. There might not actually be many apps that do use Bluetooth but Apple’s Passbook does. If you don’t use Passbook, not a problem, you can simply turn off the Bluetooth access for the app without this affecting the actual Bluetooth function which you will still be able to use.
Lastly there is social networking to consider. The majority of us probably have Facebook, Twitter et al downloaded on our smartphones and if so you should see that these are listed at the bottom of the Privacy screen. Contrary to what some users may think, these are not shortcuts to your account but if you take a look in the sub menus for each you will see a list of any apps that are asking to access the information stored in your social networking account.
Of course if you access your Pinterest account with your Twitter log-in, for example, this will make sense – many social networking applications work in conjunction with one another but if you see something you don’t use, don’t recognize or simply don’t want to have access, as with other apps, simply disallow access for those you don’t wish to have access all areas.