SIM card vulnerability may be problem, take action

By Robb Hicken/ BBB’s chief storyteller

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 of the handset’s owner if they get passed your SIM card.

The flaw actually stems 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.

This is a good reminder that as we move to a mobile platform, protection gaps are there and are being discovered. Take the time to be proactive to protect your identity with a thorough look at your cellphone, notebook, iPad, etc. and decide what steps you have taken.

The cellphone industry has put together a number of data plans and restrictions that you can use to protect phone overages, etc.

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 at the end of the month.

Here’s a sampling of the major cell phone carriers’ data plans and packages:

  • For AT&T users, you should consider Smart Limits of 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 an advance 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 MetroPCS users, provides free “Purchase Blocker” that prevents mobile purchases. MetroPCS also has a special account called MetroConnect. This account allows you to control purchases by only funding the account with a monthly amount. Once depleted, no more purchases can be made on that phone.
  • For Sprint users, take advantage of Sprint Mobile Controls. Sprint Mobile Controls allow you to lock your phone or all phones on your account on-demand or schedule locks – during dinner, school or late at night.
  • For U.S. Cellular users, use the My Account tool to oversee data usage. The My Account tool allows you to receive text message alerts when your data usage is close to the limit, as well as block data to a specific handset.
  • 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’ usage. Families or people can control wireless budgets with monthly usage allowances on each controlled line for voice minutes, messaging, data and content purchases such as ringtones, games and downloads. They’ll receive free text message alerts when limits are nearing and when they are reached. Once the allowance is reached, there is also an option to restrict usage.

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

– This column first appeared in the Idaho Statesman
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