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Smartphones and cybercriminals

Few adults would willingly invite strangers into their bedroom while they were getting undressed, or into their bathroom while they are on the toilet – yet that is exactly what they are risking by failing to grasp the threat posed by cyber criminals hijacking their mobile device camera. That is according to a new study by an IT security product company.

Most UK adults own a smartphone, yet two-thirds are unaware that cybercriminals can send malicious software to take over their mobile device camera, stealing private, stored images and taking some very interesting ones of their own. This includes not just deeply invasive and compromising pictures of the phone’s owner, but snapshots of credit cards and pictures of young children playing with, or getting dressed in the presence of, the device.

The study by Kaspersky Lab found that 83 per cent never turn their mobile phone off, unless the battery dies, and 44 per cent say the same for a tablet. Yet over half (57 per cent) of adults have sex within sight of a camera-enabled mobile phone, tablet, laptop or PC. A third (37 per cent) get undressed in the presence of such devices, and 44 per cent take them into the toilet or the bath (29 per cent). A third (30 per cent) leave sensitive documents or payment cards near their devices; and a quarter (26 per cent) freely allow their children to play with them.

A minority of consumers who do understand and take action to reduce the risks – just a fifth of mobile phone (20 per cent) and laptop (21 per cent) users and mere 15 per cent of tablet users – often resort to measures that are far from helpful. For example, it is impossible to disconnect the camera function in mobile phones and tablets, so just closing the icon or otherwise attempting to disable it (40 per cent) is never enough. Physically covering the camera with blue tack or a sticker, the second favourite option at 36 per cent, will work, but can trip up unwary consumers who don’t realise that many phones now have camera lenses on both sides.

Kaspersky Lab’s Senior Security Researcher David Emm said: “We think of our mobile devices as our window on the world, not realising that for cybercriminals it could be their window into ours. Hacking into a device’s camera offers those with malicious intent access to our images, our most intimate moments, our identities – and the people we want most to protect, such as our children.”

The study shows the firm adds that consumers are often confused about the risk and unsure what to do even when they do understand. Just one in three of those who had done anything to secure their device camera had opted for security software, the only really effective solution, according to the company.


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