• thewhitehatter

Cell Phones/Smartphones/PDA’s

Some interesting statistics specific to cell phones/Smartphone/PDA’s:

  • Cell phones, which have under 30 years in existence, are one of the most rapid developing technologies the world has ever known, which was estimated to have reached the 4 billion mark by the end of 2008.

  • The mobile phone is now approaching the functionality of a computer, yet unlike a computer, it remains by its owner’s side, powered up 24/7.

  • Cell phones are no longer just phones, they are a multimedia tool used for social communication. Users can interact with music, pictures, videos, games, internet, email, text messaging, and so much more every day.

  • In Canada, young people between 13-24 years old are the largest target group of wireless phone users in our country.

  • 52% of Canadian youth have their own wireless phone.

Cell phones, in all their shapes, sizes, and capabilities are the new techno-gadget must-have for our internet-savvy youth, who are looking at ways to stay connected with their peers. Unlike cell phones of old, where you could only send or receive a call, today’s cell phones can allow a user to:

  • Make and receive voice calls and access voice mail

  • Download and play music

  • Download and play games

  • Browse the internet

  • Manage contacts and calendars

  • Send and receive text messages (SMS text)

  • Send and receive email

  • Video/voice conference

  • Push-to-talk two way radio communications.

  • Take, send, and receive pictures and play video files.

  • Use it as a recording device

  • Use it as a calculator

  • Use it as a compass

  • Use it to read books, magazines, and newspapers

  • Use it as a backup digital device

  • Use it as a digital filing cabinet

In January 2011, a mobile research firm called “Zokem” reported out at the Mobile World Congress, that mobile phone users are now spending far more time using applications on their phones (email, text, multimedia, IM-ing, maps, gaming, entertainment, and social networking) than they are actually using it for talking. Zokem actually reported that the app usage on most phones is now about two and a half times greater than voice usage. This research provides further data that people, especially our youth, consider their cell phone to be more of a portable hand held computer than a single purpose device.

Today’s cell phone/Smartphone (iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Windows Phone) has the same capabilities as most desk top computers or laptops, and because they are much more mobile and easier to conceal from parents, they too have safety threats associated that include:

  • Cell phones have now become targets for advertising spam, especially something known as "SMS Cramming." Here a child will receive a text-based message asking them to participate in a survey; at the conclusion of which they will be rewarded with a gift card to a music/video store of their choice. To register you must enter your cell phone number, which is the bait and hook. Once the cell number has been entered, you will likely start to see an increase in your monthly billing for services that you had not originally signed up for.

  • Email accounts on a phone are more difficult to monitor as a parent.

  • Most cell phone internet access providers do not have parental controls for phones; meaning there is no filtering capability whatsoever so your child is more prone to seeing inappropriate content on a cell phone when surfing the Internet than a home based PC or laptop.

  • Camera and video capabilities are a risk on a phone if a child misuses this feature. If you do decide to allow your child to have a phone that has a camera, you need to have a serious conversation with them about the acceptable use of such a feature.

  • Cell phones, and some of the add-ons like SMS text and a data plan for internet access on-the-go, can be very expensive for parents and teens if they don’t pay attention to their data plan limits.

Age-specific cell phone recommendations:

Elementary School:

As a rule, we believe that children in this age group should not have a cell phone, but we also recognize that in today’s real world there may be exceptions to this rule, such as when both parents are working outside the home, and maintaining contact with your child is a must. For elementary aged children we would recommend a phone like the LG Migo. This cell phone is easy to use and features four speed dials and an emergency key. Just press a button and the call is dialed automatically. The LG Migo also hasten fun ring tones as well as a built in GPS unit, so parents can locate their kids by just logging on to the computer which is an excellent safety feature. Another option for this age group is the “firefly” that can be located at via Rogers Wireless here in Canada.

Middle School:

Based upon need and understanding, youth in this age group should be allowed to step up to a cell phone that has the following key features:

  • Voice calls and voice messaging

  • Text messaging

  • Email capability

  • MP3 capability

  • GPS tracking capability

Any other features, such as a phone, camera or internet access capability, come with risk and we believe these options are not really necessary with this age group.

High School:

We believe that past performance dictates future behaviour. If your child has used a cell phone responsibly while in middle school, the parent “may” consider upgrading the child’s phone once they have reached high school age, and allow them to now have access to models that allow a phone cam, Internet access, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability which gives them the capability to talk hands free when driving in an emergency.

Smartphone/ PDA’s (personal digital assistant)

In the past smartphone/PDA’s were only used by working professionals who were looking for a device that integrated their work life with their personal/home life.Given the cost of these devices, many were too cost prohibitive, which kept these phones out of the hands of our youth. Some of these devices included the RIM Blackberry, Sony Ericsson, HTC EVO, Motorola Droid, Palm Pre, and the very popular iPhone. Today however, competition in this very hot category has driven prices down where Smartphone/PDA’s are now offered for free if you sign up on a 2-3 year contract and data plan, thus becoming a very attractive and must have device for our youth. We believe that these devices offer too many opportunities for our youth to exploit in a negative way, never mind the fact that they will likely never need most of the options that these devices offer. If mom and dad are flipping the bill, stay away from the Smartphone/PDA because they come with too much risk.

No matter what the phone, don’t forget to review your child’s cell phone bill and see who they are communicating with, who they call versus who is calling them and how long the calls are for. If there are odd or repeating numbers ask your child about these numbers. Remember, sexual predators during the grooming process will attempt to make voice contact with your child - what better way to do so than via a cell phone.

The New Frontier for The Criminal Element:

According to the U.N. telecommunications agency, the number of cell phones worldwide hit 4.6 billion in February 2011. It is estimated that today 500 million of these phones are Smartphones and by 2013 it is estimated that there will be 1 billion Smartphones in use. For a comparison, it is estimated that there are about 2 billion computers in use out there – currently, most running a Windows operating system.

Given the increased popularity with cell phones amongst our youth and young adults, the criminal element knows that there is a killing to be made, as they figure out technological ways to relieve users of their cash or information specific to identity theft.

Given that Smartphones have become small mobile computing and communication devices, the criminal element who have honed their skills on computer based illegal phishing, pharming, scamming, and spamming techniques, are now turning their attention to doing the same thing with Smartphones. When combined with the fact that users of Smartphones are utilizing insecure WiFi networks and access points (such as at Starbucks), and careless consumers are now wanting more and more convenience with their Smartphones, it is no wonder that the criminal element is turning their attention to exploiting the security gaps and operating platforms of Smartphones. This will even become more of a security issue with the development of NFC (Near Field Communication), as cell phone “swipe” technology becomes more widely available to be used by consumers, instead of credit or debit cards. NFC software and hardware inside cell phones utilizes short-range communication technologies that allow either one or two way exchange of personal and financial information. The demand for this technology by consumers is high, and it is reported that the new iPhone 5 and the new Android phones will include NFC, and it is estimated that 70 million NFC enabled phones will be sold this year.

Infected Smartphone Apps, The Next Wave of Malware:

As mentioned above, Smartphones are the new frontier for the cyber criminal, and last summer an iPhone app called “Handy Light” had a hidden function imbedded in its software when users downloaded it onto their iPhone. If the user adjusted a few settings and tapped a special color code sequence, the app would allow users to share the iPhone’s wireless internet connection with other devices (tethering) which cellular carriers normally charge and extra 20 - 30 dollars a months for. Once uncovered, this app was quickly pulled from the App Store.

This year alone (2011), users of Android phones who are downloading free “pirated” apps (which many of our youth do) from third party sites have been plagued by malware. Although it is recommended that Android users only download apps from Google’s official Android market, on March 1st of 2011, 50 infected apps were found in the Android Market itself, which contained a nasty form of malware called “DroidDream” that collected identifying data from an infected phone and sent that information to a remote server.

McAfee, one of the better know internet security companies, just recently demonstrated how easy it was to create a malicious app that was supported by both Android and Apple’s iOS which runs iPhones, iPads, and Ipods. This app could allow the hacker to now remotely control an infected Smartphone and turn it into what is known in the industry as a “zombie.” McAfee also reported that these same malicious apps could be designed to harvest information from your Smartphone such as passwords, emails, contact information, and credit card numbers if stored on the phone.Experts have stated that the ability to add malicious code, after an installation of an app that clears antivirus checks, is one reason that Smartphones and tablet apps are where we will see the next big wave of malicious malware.

Unlike Apple’s App Store and Research in Motion’s Blackberry App World that use a partly proprietary operating system, and also pre-screens apps making them less likely a target for malicious apps, Google’s Android Market (which is an open source operating system platform) does not pre-screen apps and instead relies on consumers to report problems. Having said this, and although Apple does test submitted apps before release to make sure that they don’t misbehave; the Handylight app mentioned earlier likely got through Apple’s App Store because the hidden features activation was so complicated

Defend Your Smartphones:

Over the past couple of years, cell phone companies have been scrambling to provide mobile security software, and if you own a Smartphone, we suggest that it is time for you to consider purchasing a “mobile security suite” given the above-noted information.

The website “Top Ten Reviews” located at has created an excellent chart that compares many of the mobile security software programs that are available to consumers.

Head over to TopTenReviews site and have a look at what they recommend. Key features in any mobile security suite should include:

  • Anti-virus protection

  • A firewall

  • Anti-spam

  • Quarantine protection in real-time

  • Remote block and remote wipe to protect your information if your phone is lost or stolen

  • Protection of internal memory and contents stored on memory cards

  • Parental control monitoring

  • SIM card notice so that if your phone is stolen and the thief puts in a new SIM card, the phone will send you a notice of the new phone number to help track down the thief

Cell phone/Smartphone/PDA Software Monitoring:

As mentioned in chapter 2, specific to overt cell phone monitoring software, there are four products that we suggest you have a look at, depending upon the type of monitoring you are looking for, and the type of phone that your child may have. All three companies offer the ability to monitor phone calls sent and received, text messaging, photo/video, address book changes, application blocking, web browsing history, and some even offer current GPS location of the phone. One product can also block the phone from having the ability to text or receive/send calls when driving, other than needed emergency numbers:

Digital Food For Thought

Darren Laur

AKA #thewhitehatter