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Three Ways to Play Smarter with Mobile and Social Networking

Generally speaking, people aren't that aware of the risks involved with mobile commerce, banking and social networking.

In what's likely one of the least surprising studies about consumer online mobile behavior, Javelin Strategy & Research and Norton found that the general public is not terribly aware of best practices in mobile security, and - thanks to the magic of social media - are often prone to over-sharing.

"Connected and Careless," a Javelin study sponsored by Symantec's Norton family of security products found that, when it comes to Internet security, the general public is generally under-informed.

The three biggest areas where people are getting it wrong include the use of:

  • Location-based services (telling the world when your address, when you're not at home and where you bank using services like Foursquare, Gowalla, SCVNGR or Facebook Places)
  • Mobile phone transactions (conducting banking or online shopping transactions on using unsecured apps and smartphones)
  • Online passwords (and the awful habit of using simple passwords, the same password across multiple services and never changing any of those passwords)
  • "We're seeing huge gains in people shopping and banking online, especially around the holidays," said personal finance expert Jean Chatzky, who collaborated with Norton on the development and analysis of the study. "The survey shows that people are still unaware of how their online activity can pose a 'real world' threat to their finances. It's like an invitation to cybercrooks."

    So what can people do? For one, they can secure their smartphones with a password or passcode, building an initial barrier preventing access to lost or stolen devices. Also, it might be a good idea for those people to be a little more aware when using location-aware apps and services. If you check in to your home on your public Foursquare account, using your home address, then that means criminals can find out where you live. If you then check in to your bank on Foursquare, then criminals then know where you live and where you bank. If you announce on Twitter that you're going on a two-week vacation to a far-away place, then criminals know you won't be around while they check in to your house.

    "Giving away your location is a potential 'gateway' that people should be aware of and think about," said Chatzky. "The only people who need to know that you're out-of-town, or not where you usually are, are your family, close friends and maybe a trusted neighbor. Technology is changing so fast, that many people may not even be aware of the various ways they're opening themselves up to potential financial losses."

    That's not to say that social media use is bad, or that location-based games are an invitation for trouble. But it does show there's a lot of room for individual users to take steps to protect themselves.

    Of the 1,000 people Javelin surveyed, 51 percent used the mobile internet to check or make updates on social media. Of those respondents under 35, 56 percent said they update their social networking status along with their location. And even though people are using geo-location, only 15 percent were able to explain what they were.

    Connected mobile devices are only getting more common. While a bank can't tell a person how to use a mobile device, they can ensure some level of protection by requiring passwords for mobile banking services, encouraging users of those mobile banking services to set a password limiting access to the phone itself, and maybe discouraging branches from offering promotions and perks to users who check in upon each visit or strive to become the Foursquare Mayor.

    Social networking is a lot of fun. But clearly work needs to be done to ensure customers don't give away the keys to their identity or their personal safety.

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