You may not realize it, but your smartphone is one of the most important devices to secure. It contains all your sensitive and personal information, yet it also constantly pings wireless networks, hotspots, cell towers, and other networks.
Encrypting your cell phone’s data and connection is a vital step in maintaining the security of your data. Otherwise, anyone could intercept and take it – it’s not as hard as you think. Therefore, installing a VPN on every smartphone in your home is a crucial step to keeping your home network safe in 2017 and beyond.
How Mobile Phones Are Designed
According to Pew Research, 64 percent of American adults owned a smartphone as of Spring 2015 (the most recent data available), up from 35 percent in Spring 2011. These devices are being heavily used, and 25 percent of Americans (mostly Millennials) are smartphone-dependent for Internet connectivity.
While these devices do connect to the Internet, they’re designed to do so in a different way than your traditional desktop or laptop computer. As explained on How Things Work:
At their core, smartphones, and all cell phones for that matter, are mini radios, sending and receiving radio signals. Cell phone networks are divided into specific areas called cells. Each cell has an antenna that receives cell phone signals. The antenna transmits signals just like a radio station, and your phone picks up those signals just as a radio does.
Radio waves are the basis of wireless design, and, just like your car stereo can be tuned to hear different songs on different radio stations, each wireless device in the world broadcasts and receives data on different frequencies.
On your home network, your phone connects to the Internet through your broadband router, but cell phones don’t directly connect to a router. Instead, they’re programmed to search for the nearest in-network cell tower or wireless network that can redirect the data through an Internet access point.
As you drive, bike, walk, and commute around town with your smartphone in your pocket, it’s constantly pinging nearby networks. The problem is most smartphones can now also create hotspots and intercept traffic.
It’s not even necessary to hack the cloud database – you can simply sit at a heavily trafficked street corner with the right hardware/software and pickup everyone’s traffic. Google’s lawsuit over its Maps Street View cars intercepting WiFi data while driving around the world to assist with location mapping. One can only wonder who is in your town right now doing this.
Of course, this is nothing new – it’s always been possible to intercept phone traffic, and while our laws may protect us from phone-tapping, those archaic laws only protect your voice calls. Texts, data, and everything else you do on your phone can and will be used against you by law enforcement, courts, and other parties.
Our legal system would be buried if every text conversation or email posted online were prosecuted. Court is the least of your worries when everyone can see the data you’re transmitting, though.
Security Risks of Mobile Design
Operational Security is all about classifying information. If someone knows where you’re at and will be, they can plan to intercept and overcome you. OPSEC businesses are much more common in today’s tech-focused world as organizations and individuals working in the private and public sector need this layer of security.
Imagine if a stalker knew where you had dinner every Friday or when you’d be alone each day?
We’re mostly conscious as a society about what we post online, but the general population isn’t tech-savvy enough to understand how they’re transmitting that information on the back-end. Retailers have long implemented technology to track you through cookies, your device’s MAC address, and the capabilities of your phone when it pings their brick-and-mortar networks.
When you park in a Kroger’s or Target parking lot, your mobile wallet and maps programs may ping you if you uploaded your information. That’s convenient until the traffic is intercepted, and all that’s needed from your phone to track your movements around town is a history of which networks it pinged.
Hackers have long spoofed cell towers, intercepting traffic on mass scales, and although authorities are always on the lookout for them, fake cell towers are constantly discovered around the world, much less all the outdated towers littering the landscape.
And this is just the towers. Connecting to public WiFi doesn’t make it any better.
This blog details several methods and programs even a noob hacker could use to intercept data on a public WiFi network. The long-banned Firesheep extension for Firefox made it so anyone could do it with one click. But for every security precaution taken, another 100 hackers pop up with another 10 methods to intercept this traffic.
Fortunately, it’s not all bad news.
Why Encryption Protects You
VPNs are important because they encrypt your data on these networks through an encrypted channel that connects to your secured home or business network. So, even if a hacker is tuned to your device’s station and intercepts the traffic, it’ll still be for the most part unusable.
This is because VPNs use OpenSSL encryption and packet authentication to provide what’s essentially an encrypted firewall that extends beyond your home network. Whenever you see government agents in movies talking about using “secure lines,” what they mean is encrypted lines that can’t be intercepted.
In fact, sending information out of this safe zone of encryption was at the epicenter of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal during the 2016 election. The government understands the importance of encryption for OPSEC more than anybody else, and breaches of digital security played a huge part in this year’s shift in federal leadership.
Learn from Clinton’s mistakes and keep your data secure at all times with a VPN that encrypts your texts, financial information, passwords, photos, contacts, and digital record of your entire life.
But do understand that a VPN is not by any means a catch-all for online security, and it won’t protect you from malicious parties seeing metadata such as the networks your phone sends out probe requests as you go to work, the movies, shopping, out to eat, dancing, and home. It’s important to always remain vigilent.
While a VPN alone can’t protect you, you can’t be fully protected without it. Don’t forget that.