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Cell phone threats, how hackers can take advantage, how to protect yourself

You may think giving away your cell phone number isn’t much of a risk. KIFI/KIDK found out that your cell phone number can be linked to critical, private information about you.

Your cell phone is a great little device that can make life easier, but security threats lurk all around the use of our phones — especially around our cell phone numbers.

“The phone number’s important because people can text to those phone numbers. Especially with mobile phone numbers and where most people have a smartphone, a smart device, it’s possible they can pick up bugs and malware,” said Joshua N. Duersch, a Computer Networking Technology Instructor at Eastern Idaho Technical College.

Your phone number is all a hacker needs to read texts, listen to calls and track your location.

“Especially ones that are on contract plans because most of that information is on your account. Social Security number — because that’s one of the main things when you do a contract with a carrier you have to have your Social Security number. You have to have your address. Some have your email or don’t have your email,” said Manny Ibarra, the marketing director at Lend Me An Ear Cellular.

An attacker can access other information online simply by using your phone number as an identifier.

“Hacking continues to evolve. It doesn’t really stay the same for very long. We have to continue to adapt to the changing market. So what used to be important information in the past, it seem’s like it’s grown rather than shrunk,” Duersch said.

A look at recent mobile security:

In 2014, 5.2 million smartphones were lost or stolen in the Unite States. In 2015, mobile devices are thought of as information technology’s weakest security link. 25 percent of all mobile devices encounter a threat each month.

If your phone number is also tied to social media, attackers can find even more personal information about you.

“If somebody has enough information about you — whether by getting a phone number and then finding you on Facebook, then they can start spreading from there and finding family members, other personal information. They can then take that and start attacking bank account information. They can find out pets’ names and other things like that that you’re asked on those websites because of your Facebook profile or other stuff that you’ve put up on the internet,” Duersch said.

As hackers and hacking technology continue to evolve, we need to evolve as well in how we protect our information. Experts say we need to now protect our phone numbers, just as much as we protect our Social Security numbers.

If certain private information can identify who you are, don’t put that information just anywhere. Safeguard your cell phone number as much as possible.

“I don’t put my personal phone number up anywhere on the internet because I don’t want them to be able to go search that phone number and then find me through that. I’ve had the same phone number for who knows how long. So if I had that compromised once, it’s compromised until I get rid of the phone number — and people don’t do that very often,” Duersch said.

Duersch suggests to not put that information on the internet to begin with. But if you do, turn up your security settings on social media sites. In addition, Ibarra has had his number for more than 13 years, so he said his number is a personal part of him now.

“I use third party apps like Sideline or Google Voice. My Google Voice, if I put it on somewhere, I can actually go into my computer and block certain types of text messages and calls, or what I want people to call me on so they don’t have my information,” Ibarra said.

Whether you play games or enter into raffles, you can enter the other numbers you get from third-party sites, rather than your main number. The numbers from third-party sites do not lead to your personal information.

“I usually tell people, if they’re going to create emails for those sites that they enter in for stuff, create one that you really don’t use. Create one just for that, and use your Google Voice for that, but keep your main email that’s personal for certain things, not for that kind of stuff,” Ibarra said.

Over the years, people have leaned toward prepaid cell phone plans. Ibarra also said it’s a good way to avoid many, if not all, hacker threats.

“On our system, we don’t keep any of your information. We don’t keep emails in there, we don’t have your social, we don’t have your house, we don’t need it — it’s prepaid. So we don’t need to have that personal information. So if someone tries to come back and go to the system and see anything, all they’re going to see is a number and maybe the plan that’s you’re on, If they want to pay your bill, go for it, you know?” Ibarra said.

Avid hackers try to stay a step or two ahead trying to get your information, so watch out for the too-good-too-be-true ads and sweepstakes. Experts say the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to simply be aware of who you’re giving and where you’re offering your cell phone number.

Tips on how to lower your chance of getting hacked:

Turn up privacy/security settings on all social media accounts Use third-party apps that generate a second phone number you can use (Google Voice, Sideline, Skype) Try prepaid cell phone plans Stay away from unsecured WiFi connections Do not put your information into unsecured websites (sites that start with https:// are secure, sites with http:// are not) Lock your phone Regularly delete your browsing history, cookies and cache so your virtual footprint is not available Install apps on your phone only if they come from a trusted source, such as the manufacturer’s app store

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