Do you question how secure your smartphone really is?Anna Scantlin - Contributing Editor
Lately I've seen a lot of articles covering a very important topic in many aspects of our lives, and that's security. I've kind of wanted to touch base on smartphone security a little more in depth for some time now, but I wasn't exactly sure how to bring it up. But by not talking about it I feel like it's avoiding a very important subject that's being talked about just about everywhere else. It's probably about time we talk about the elephant in the room.
Security in cell phones in general has always been a subject in question, as it should be. Here we are sending all of this data and information over radio waves; it would be foolish to believe that they could never be intercepted by another source, especially because there are networks behind the radio waves we're sending them through. Surely they have a way to get ahold of any information we send through them if they really wanted to - at least, that's how I've always seen it. For the most part, I have never truly considered my information secure when it comes to what goes in and what comes out of my cell phone.
But it's a different feeling when you suspect that somebody has access to your information, and when you know somebody has access to your information. I don't know if it's just a more unsettling feeling or what, but lately all of the information that's coming out about phone security, or lack thereof, makes me feel a little more cautious about what I'm doing on my phone. And this is coming from somebody who never did anything wrong before. Or at least, nothing I considered wrong.
I'm sure most of you have heard about the NSA, or the National Security Agency, recently. If not, then it probably wouldn't take much to find out what all the hubub is about when it comes to the agency. The NSA is a government sponsored agency in the United States whose job is to gather and analyze security data. For the past year, the agency and the government denied allegations that the NSA was misusing information for purposes other than for what they absolutely needed to, but as it turns out, that wasn't exactly the case. In a nutshell, this quote from a Frontline article pretty much sums up what started this whole affair:
"According to documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the government has also been collecting Americans’ phone records in bulk, and scooping up their emails, browsing history and social-media activity."
And since that moment, it seemed that all the lies began to surface. All of the denied allegations and secrets that had been piled up were coming to a head, and despite whatever security we here in the United States had been promised, it seemed that it was all just a facade. A program called PRISM, which Edward Snowden had blown the whistle on, was essentially breaching our privacy through many companies which we use every day like Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google, Apple and Facebook, although many companies who intially agreed to use the program didn't apparently realize the full extent of what the information would be used for and have since voiced their opinion against it. But what exactly is the full extent? How much information could they possibly gather? According to The Guardian:
"Alleged NSA internal slides included in the disclosures purported to show that the NSA could unilaterally access data and perform "extensive, in-depth surveillance on live communications and stored information" with examples including email, video and voice chat, videos, photos, voice-over-IP chats (such as Skype), file transfers, and social networking details."
That's a lot of details that somebody, somewhere can access fairly easily. Although I had already had my suspicions about my information truly being secure or not, it seems easier to deal with when you know that you could very possibly be wrong by not knowing the full of extent of what's going on. But with all of this new information being thrown at our faces, I do feel more anxious than I did before. Even though I feel like I haven't been doing anything wrong, and the odds of anybody wanting to look at my information are slim to none, you never know when you might text an inside joke or have a conversation with somebody that could easily be taken out of context that just might become grounds for something you never meant to be taken in such a way. It's kind of spawned a "somebody's watching me" type of anxiety about using my phone.
It's weird because security seems like such an imporant feature in our smartphones lately, but I am starting to wonder if any of the precautions we are taking with some of the applications and features that encourage stronger security really do any good in the end. Of course some features can help in every day situations where somebody tries to physically steal your phone, sure. But knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that somebody, somewhere has access to just about everything you've ever done is, to say the least, an unsettling thought that can make you think twice about sending or looking up anything. At least, that's how I feel about it.
Readers, what are your thoughts on phone security? Since these revelations have come up, are you feeling any different about your smartphone usage or using your phone any differently than you used to? Or has this news left you unphased? Let's hear your opinions in the comments below!