Better Business by Robb Hicken: Cellphone options add to your security

July 25, 2013 

A recent discovery by security experts has found that hackers may penetrate the security key that protects that little card inside your phone - the SIM card.

Without the technical details, the hackers can eavesdrop on phone conversations, make fraudulent purchases, or impersonate the handset's owner.

The flaw actually goes back to the 1970s, when IBM developed a cryptographic method to protect data. While some manufacturers have upgraded the system, a presentation at a conference in Las Vegas last month showed that more than 175 million cellphones still use flawed SIM cards.

While wireless providers and manufacturers work on SIM card security flaws, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. Take the time to be proactive to protect your identity with a thorough look at your cellphone, notebook or tablet and determine what steps you need to take to secure your identity.

The cellphone industry has put together a number of data plans and restrictions that you can use to protect yourself. Being sure your plan is up to date is one step in preventing thieves from having unlimited access. Some plans will send you alerts if you (or a thief pretending to be you) reach predetermined limits.

Remember, the crooks are looking at ways to exploit your data, not just your phone number, name or address. If they can find information on your phone, they will use it to make purchases, and many times you will not be aware of it until you get your phone bill.

Here's a sampling of the major cellphone carriers' data plans and packages:

- For AT&T users, you should consider Smart Limits for Wireless, an online control tool. Smart Limits for Wireless lets you set limits on how and when your phone is used, including setting a dollar limit for downloadable purchases. If your phone is used for excessive purchases, you will receive a warning notification. And once a limit is reached, another notice is sent that the service will be stopped until the next billing cycle begins.

- For Sprint users, take advantage of Sprint Mobile Controls, which allow you to lock your phone or all phones on your account on demand or to schedule locks - for instance, during dinner, school or late at night.

- For Verizon users, set up and manage Usage Controls through My Verizon account. Through the My Verizon Usage Controls, you can keep a tight rein on your accounts. Families or individuals can control wireless budgets with monthly usage allowances on each controlled line for voice minutes, messaging, data and content purchases such as ring tones, games and downloads. They'll receive free text message alerts when limits are nearing capacity and when reached. Once the allowance is reached, there is also an option to restrict usage.

Giving your wireless plan a tuneup won't stop a thief, but it will definitely make you aware of any funny business with your account.

Bottom line: Make sure you read your statements, verifying all purchases made through your mobile devices, and create strong passwords.

Robb Hicken: 947-2115

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