What I Learned About Smartphone Dependency on a Himalayan Trek

September 20, 2016
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3 min read

On a recent Himalayan trek, I realized just how much I rely on access to the internet to survive, whether it’s GPS for directions or something as simple as checking information on a local fruit. It is undeniable that the internet has become an integral part of our lives, and the smartphone industry is the major driving force behind this revolution.

This privilege isn’t exclusive to urban citizens in India. Many factors, such as the Digital India initiative, the affordability of smartphones and the reduced cost of mobile data have combined to ensure that even remote villages are connected to the internet.

An increase in dependency on the internet also means that our personally identifiable information (PII), which we often freely share on internet, is vulnerable and can be used against our will. Cybersecurity is now a serious issue for countries such as India to tackle.

India: A Top Target

India is attracting the attention of ransomware creators. According to research by Kaspersky Lab, as reported by The Indian Express, India is the fifth-most attacked country in the world.

With a vast majority of users saving their personal information on mobile devices, this avenue provides rich pickings for malicious actors. A huge internet user base of around 400 million, continued usage of legacy systems in government and banking sectors, and the general reluctance to spend on cybersecurity makes India a prime target for cybercriminals.

Social Banking Puts Smartphone Users at Risk

Most mobile applications encourage payment through a unique e-wallet facility. Mobile wallets are among the most popular apps due to the ease with which a transaction can be conducted. Additionally, social banking is just starting to pick up in India.

According to Banking Technology, Axis Bank recently rolled out a social banking capability that encourages payments through social channels such as Twitter. This is a nice advancement in banking technology, but it also pushes the boundaries of security. Social channels accessed through unsecured endpoints will encourage cybercriminals to find the loopholes in the system.

Users Put PII Up for Grabs

Mobile apps offered through reputed stores are monitored for security and privacy risks. An application residing outside these stores, however, is downloaded at the user’s risk. In the pursuit of instant knowledge and entertainment, many users fail to consider the amount of PII apps can access on their smartphones. A Norton survey found that a negligible percentage of users denied an app permission to access data on their smartphones. Alarming, isn’t it?

You Get What You Pay For

With a drop in the price of smartphones, more people are connected to the internet than ever before. Even cheaper phones would probably not receive OS upgrades from manufacturers, making them vulnerable to attacks that exploit the weaknesses of an older software version.

Insufficient National Policies

With nearly 200 million smartphone users, India is forced to look at cyberthreats as a real issue that warrants attention. The government set up a national cybersecurity policy that aims to protect public and private infrastructure from cyberattacks. There is still a long way to go, however, before the policy becomes effective in dealing with cyberthreats in real time.

Currently, cybercrime is dealt with on a case-by-case basis. But India lacks a uniform security framework to address cyberthreats effectively. While it is imperative for users to be cautious about data sharing, it is also the obligation of the government to safeguard the privacy of citizens’ data and reduce economic losses due to cybercrime.

Securing Your Smartphone

While the government mulls its plan of action, consumers can protect their data by following a few simple steps:

  • Use strong passwords.
  • Download applications from known and trusted sources, such as Google Play Store.
  • Be wary of links and attachments in emails.
  • Invest in a basic mobile security solution.

If there is one thing I learned during my Himalayan trek, it is that though there are guidelines and tricks to surviving a high-altitude adventure, it is mostly our gut instincts and strong will to survive that allows us to reach new heights safely. So be safe, smart and secure, and we may yet navigate these cybersecurity challenges and come out unscathed.

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Betty Joseph
Content Marketing, IBM BigFix

As a member of the IBM Security division, Betty Joseph leads the content marketing efforts for IBM BigFix on social media. IBM's BigFix portfolio enables cli...
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