There’s no doubt that smartphones have made life easier — from how we communicate and maintain our schedules, to how we check our bank accounts and transfer money.
In fact, smartphones are loaded with so many features these days that it’s difficult to keep track — if you even know they’re there.
Hidden software feature in Android phones is sending data to China
According to a report by the New York Times, some Android phones come with a hidden feature that users don’t know about: a backdoor that sends all of your text messages and other data to China every 72 hours.
According to security experts, this secret software monitors where you go, who you talk to and what you write in text messages. According to the report, people who have disposable, prepaid or cheaper phones are likely to be most affected. Although it’s still unclear whether the problem is limited to these users.
The Chinese company that created the software, Shanghai Adups Technology Company, says it runs on more than 700 million phones, cars and other devices. One American manufacturer, BLU Products, discovered that 120,000 of its phones had been affected by the hidden feature, but the company updated its software to eliminate it.
According to the New York Times report, the security company that discovered the vulnerability said that the software transmits ‘the full contents of text messages, contact lists, call logs, location information and other data to a Chinese server.’
The software comes pre-installed on the phone and users have no idea that the surveillance feature is even there.
And while smartphone vulnerabilities are discovered somewhat frequently, this one wasn’t a bug or by accident — the Chinese company actually designed it to monitor user behavior for ‘customer service’ purposes and says the software wasn’t ‘intended’ for American phones.
A lawyer based in Palo Alto, California, who reps the Chinese company, told the New York Times that this was simply a mistake — and that the company has destroyed any data received by affected phones.
Get more details from the NYT report here.
Dangers of smartphones and how to protect yourself
Since there is no full list of potentially-affected devices available yet, we don’t know how many people could be impacted by this hidden software.
And while the company says this happened by mistake, it’s a good reminder that it’s crucial for consumers to be aware of the hidden dangers of smartphones.
Whether you’re a pro or just figuring out how to use your smartphone, criminals are finding new ways to infiltrate our daily activities and the ways we use our phones on a regular basis. So it’s important that you are always cautious about sites you access and data you send and receive on your phone.
Here’s a look at a few common smartphone scams and how to avoid them!
Text & email scams
Text message and email scams typically have the same intention — to gain enough information from you in order to steal your identity or other personal data like your banking information.
And since many people don’t associate their smartphones with the risk of fraud, criminals are catching them off guard.
So to help you protect yourself, here are some tips to avoid these scams:
- Never reply to a text from an unknown number — not even to ‘stop’ future messages: If it’s a scammer, it just confirms to the criminals that you are a live, real person and they’ll continue to try to scam you.
- Never send personal or sensitive information via text — including Social Security number, bank account info, credit or debit card info, passwords or anything else a criminal could use to steal your information.
- Never click on any links — sent via email or text — that you weren’t expecting or that come from a number/address you don’t recognize.
- Install and regularly update anti-malware software on your smartphone: Here’s a list of the best mobile security software options from Consumer Reports.
- You can forward any suspicious texts to 7726 (‘spam’ on most keypads) to alert your carrier about the number that sent you the spam. Then make sure to delete the texts after you’ve passed the information along.
Just like scammers call your home phone (if you have one), they’re also trying to get to you via smartphone. So before you call back an unknown number, or even someone claiming to be from a company you do business with, there are a few things you need to know.
Common phone scams to avoid on your smartphone:
- One-ring scam: This is when criminals use robocalling technology to place Internet calls that only ring once to cell phones. If you pick up, the robocaller just drops the line. But the bigger danger is if you miss the call. Like so many people, you might think it’s an important call and dial that number right back — but don’t do it!
Turns out the area codes are in the Caribbean. That call will cost you between $15 and $30! And to add insult to injury, the criminals behind these calls will sign you up (through your cell provider) for bogus services that will be crammed on your phone bill if you return their call. See more on this scam and the area codes to look out for here.
- IRS phone scam: If you receive a call from someone claiming to be from the IRS threatening you, don’t fall for it! The IRS will never threaten you or demand payment over the phone. According to the IRS, official IRS correspondence is sent through U.S. mail only. So this means the IRS will not contact you by email either. If you aren’t sure, here’s an example of what a fake IRS phone call sounds like.