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At 40, the Mobile Phone Has Matured as a Tool — and a Weapon

If “life begins at 40,” the mobile phone just entered a glorious new phase.

Last week, on April 3, the mobile phone celebrated its 40th birthday. A gentlemen called Martin Cooper — a senior Motorola engineer now known as the founder of the “real cellular telephone” — made a mobile phone call on 3rd April 1973 to a fellow developer working with one of Motorola’s rivals.

Today, the range of communication capabilities and accessibility facilitated by the latest smart phones is mind-boggling. People can now interface with their bank by voice, text, e-mail or mobile application on a single device, and access and maintain their bank accounts and their payment preferences through mobile applications, mobile wallets and direct contactless payments. Indeed, as my colleague Daniel Melo has blogged about, mobile is the medium of choice for the discerning customer.

But the mobile phone has also presented an ongoing headache for those involved in the security and privacy business. Smart phones are now in the hands of those “more mature” individuals who are largely inexperienced with technology risk, and who unwittingly leave themselves open to compromise, social engineering or sophisticated cyber attack. Even the younger and more “techno-savvy” consumers often don’t fully understand the risks inherent in smart phones — or they just ignore the danger, preferring convenience over security.

In short, your invaluable mobile phone is one of the crime fraternity’s greatest weapons.

How many of us have anti-malware loaded on our phone? How many of us leave wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity on indiscriminately, unaware of the accessibility risks this poses? How many of us mix social and business functions on the same device? How many of us know whether the cryptographic standards present on the device are the latest, most effective and unbroken?

As one hits middle age, one generally becomes wiser. That same principle needs to translate to how we adopt, use and secure mobile devices. Otherwise we risk a mid-life security crisis!

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