A grainy cell phone photo and Facebook posts by guests at President Trump’s plush Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last month touched off a firestorm of concerns about potential security breaches associated by the new president’s continued use of his Android cell phone.
The photo, which was taken by a resort guest, showed President Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, assorted staff and guests huddled around a table in the patio-dining room shortly after North Korea had fired off a ballistic missile. It showed people talking on cell phones, while staff used their cell phones to illuminate papers that the two leaders were discussing.
“Holy Moly! It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity at dinner when the news came that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan,” guest Richard DeAgazio wrote in his post.
Other guests weighed in with their breathless observations of the open-air emergency meeting, prompting Republicans and Democrats in Congress to press the administration for an explanation of the new administration’s cyber security, particularly as it applies to the use of cell phones and the president’s reported continued use of his unsecured device to communicate and tweet.
I will let those in Washington sort out the details of President Trump’s cell phone use and the propriety of conducting such a meeting in the Mar-a-Lago dining room. But the dustup does call attention to the security problems posed by the common devices in most of our pockets or purses.
Clearly many of us take for granted our cell phones, which are becoming more and more powerful computers. Our cell phones contain an increasing amount of personal and sensitive information that can leave us vulnerable to cyber-crimes, including identify theft.
Depending on the security imposed on President Trump’s cell phone, it could have allowed information access to spies through eavesdropping or hacking. Even secure devices are vulnerable to hackers, who can turn a cell phone’s microphone into a listening device and use its camera to spy on whatever is in front of the lens. Using a cell phone’s flashlight for illumination provides added light and makes objects viewed in a dim dining room even more vulnerable to spies.
We all need to take more care to “secure” our cell phones. You don’t need to be rich, famous or powerful to be a victim of a cyber-criminal.
I could write a book about the steps you should take to secure your cell phone. But likely the more I write, the more you would be overwhelmed and the less likely you would be to do anything.
So, I am going to offer up a few basic steps:
- Enable your cell phone’s “pass code access feature.” Use a strong alpha-numeric pass code to prevent access to the contents of your cell phone. Don’t use your birthday or address. For added security, most cell phones now allow the use of your fingerprint to limit access. Use this feature.
- Most modern phones allow for stored information to be encrypted. I favor using the “default” encryption system that comes with my phone.
- Set up the “remote wipe” on your phone. If the phone is lost or stolen, you can wipe your phone clean remotely. Back up the information in your cell phone onto your computer at home.
- Buy apps from your device’s manufacturer or a “trusted” source. Buying an app from an unknown third party can expose you to malware and ransomware. Be
- suspicious of “free download” offers. Check and set the “privacy settings” on all your apps.
- Public wi-fi is not secure. Period! Instead, using a virtual private network will boost security for sensitive data. Better yet, use a VPN that scrambles and encrypts all cyber transmissions. Shut down wi-fi and bluetooth connections when you are done.
- Back up and update your cell phone software and apps frequently. Often these updates address security issues.
Alphonso Rivera is founder and CEO of Advanced Micro Resource, a Bakersfield-based digital forensic company that specializes in digital audits of phone and computer evidence for attorneys, human resources consultants and companies.