Users of modern mobile phones have come to view the seemingly limitless features available to them as a given. Whether the devices are used for paying bills, monitoring household devices, planning the route for a road trip, or thousands of other tasks, the seemingly limitless range of apps is, for the most part, taken for granted. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for smartphones’ ability to withstand even a minor accident, and increasingly, for the phones’ ability to keep the sensitive information stored within from being accessed by hackers and identity thieves. Efforts have been made to solve both types of vulnerabilities, but we obviously have a long way to go before the physical durability and data security of our mobile devices are no longer cause for concern.
Our state of the art mobile phones are still too fragile
Back in 2013, when the Apple iPhone was still the hallmark of mobile phone technology, mobileinsurance.co.uk, a company that specializes in mobile device insurance, reported that in a poll of 2,471 iPhone users, 25% of respondents reported that their device had a cracked screen. This is despite the fact that Apple uses what it claims to be particularly strong glass in its displays. Ironically, most users whose smartphone displays are damaged do not bother to have them repaired unless they are so severely damaged as to be rendered useless. So how can we improve their durability?
• Wrap them in armour – Even with advances in display glass durability, the problem shows little sign of diminishing any time soon. For most phones, the best recourse is to encase the smartphone in a specially designed enclosure, such as the popular Otterbox, LifeProof, or Tech21 products. These and other similar cases provide significant protection against damage, should the smartphone be dropped, but they do so by increasing the bulk of the phone. Many users, especially those who are fond of their chosen device’s physical style, object to that.
• Purchase a “ruggedized” phone – There are a number of rugged smartphones on the market, such as the Defender, the CAT B15Q, and the Kyocera Brigadier. These and other similar mobile smartphones are built to withstand water, dust, and – to an extent – impact, but the displays are still somewhat susceptible to breakage.
What about “breakage” that we don’t notice?
While the greatest threat to mobile phone users is still the physical theft of the phone itself, there is also the increasing danger of owners’ valuable personal data being stolen, often without the user’s knowledge. Of course, the first line of defense against unauthorized access to the data on your device is to make use of the phone’s own security measures. A handy little guide, developed jointly by the Information Commissioner’s Office, Ofcom, the Office of Fair Trading, and PhonepayPlus, offers guidelines on how to keep your mobile-phone secure. A few of their suggestions are listed here.
• Don’t “jailbreak” your phone – Bypassing the restrictions built into the smartphone’s operating system allows you – and others – easier access to any sensitive data inside.
• Use a strong password – Obviously, you don’t want to use something simple, like 1234 or your name, as a password.
• Use software that locates or disables your phone if it is lost – Most modern mobile smartphones can access an app that will help you locate a missing phone using GPS technology. Some apps will even allow you to erase all data on the phone, should it be stolen or a certain number of incorrect password attempts be entered.
Progress toward secure mobile phones is being made.
Phone manufacturers are in a constant race, competing against both their fellow manufacturers and hackers. Hackers work tirelessly to defeat each new security measure that is implemented. It is a never-ending contest, and one in which neither side is likely to achieve a definitive victory. Developers’ encryption algorithms, which render information sent over the smartphone undecipherable, become increasingly sophisticated and complex, only to be “cracked” by hackers’ equally sophisticated decryption programs.
One phone that may well be a harbinger of a solution to both the physical and data security of mobile-phones is the Turing Smartphone. Wrapped in a case composed of a proprietary metal compound called “Liquidmorphium” that is claimed to be “stronger than titanium,” the phone represents a new approach to durability. On the security side, the phone’s encryption and decryption is handled via an onboard chip, rather than accessing the algorithms on a remote server. This renders the decryption of its signals virtually impossible by hackers, the one caveat being that the proprietary encryption/decryption process is only functional between devices that have the onboard chip – at this point, only the Turing. So while the security measure is still somewhat limited to users who have the rather expensive Turing on both ends, it is quite possible that the technology could become more widespread in the not too distant future.
For now, the best advice is to be careful with your mobile phone, and to follow the manufacturer’s and service provider’s advice regarding both physical and data security. But by all means, stay apprised of new technologies that can make your existing device as impenetrable and durable as possible.