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article imageSmartphone owners neglect basic security, study finds

By James Walker     Mar 16, 2017 in Technology
A study into the security considerations made by typical smartphone owners has concluded that most people ignore basic best practices when on mobile devices. Over a quarter of survey respondents said they don't even use a lock screen.
The research was conducted by Pew Research in the light of new revelations about phone surveillance and encryption bypassing disclosed by WikiLeaks. Smartphones are now one of the most attractive targets for cybercriminals, owing to the huge potential audience and the volume of data stored on personal devices.
While tips like setting a PIN code and only installing apps from official sources have been publicised for years, most consumers haven't taken the warnings to heart. Just 22 percent of people keep their phone protected and frequently update it. On the other end of the scale, 3 percent "never" install updates and don't even use a lock screen.
The survey authors noted that most people fall somewhere between the two extremes, along with 75 percent of the population. This class of users adheres to the basics such as using a PIN code but generally delays updates to a convenient time. Although this practice is widespread, it could leave your phone exposed to critical zero-day vulnerabilities after a patch has been released.
Across all the respondents, 40 percent said they only install an update when it's convenient. 14 percent never update to new operating system versions. There's a noticeable generational divide in how likely people are to update. Consumers over the age of 65 are twice as likely to defer updates and ignore best practices than younger users.
The survey results are concerning and suggest the public still isn't being fully informed on the risks of using an unsecured device. Last year, researchers warned that people no longer respond to cybersecurity concerns, feeling "overwhelmed" by the pressure to be vigilant online.
Smartphone vendors are also partially to blame. The fragmented nature and lengthy installation times of software updates has led to people ignoring them. Combined with the confusing jargon often used to announce a new update, a large portion of users consistently refuse to take action.
"Mobile technology has given users the ability to conduct a wide range of tasks on the go. But this connectivity also has the potential to expose users to a number of cybersecurity threats," said Pew Research. "Cybersecurity experts recommend that smartphone owners take a number of steps to keep their mobile devices safe and secure. These include using a pass code to gain access to the phone, as well as regularly updating a phone's apps and operating system."
Work is now being done to make it easier to use mobile devices safely. With Android 7.0, Google overhauled the way in which updates work to make them faster and more transparent. It still needs to do a better job of communicating why people should install an update.
The education side is also seeing improvements though. This week, Google unveiled a new online dictionary that explains what key security-centric terms mean through relatable analogies. Other websites such as Get Safe Online already offer support on a variety of digital topics.
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