Cell Phones: Convenience and Compromise

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Cell phones have become a part of modern life. Children in elementary school carry them. So do business people. Even seniors, who are often labeled a techno-phobic group, carry them. And the companies who manufacture them and sell cell phone services or content, are in a race to make these once strictly utilitarian devices even more popular.

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It is no surprise that many people covet the “latest and greatest” version of their wireless devices. Whether their preference is a cell phone, smartphone, pocket PC or PDA, new models are being introduced at an increasingly frequent rate. Constant upgrading can be expensive and it generates a steady stream of used and discarded equipment.

“Most people toss their phones after they're done; a lot of them give their old phones to family members or friends,” Miro Kazakoff, a researcher at Complete Inc. of Boston who follows mobile phone sales and trends, told the Associated Press. Kazakoff also told the Associated Press that selling used phones is increasingly popular, with prices sometimes reaching into the hundreds of dollars.

The re-use of mobile devices can pose problems for the original owner, especially if personal or corporate data was stored on the device. The primary cause of most difficulties stems from the failure to erase data from the device prior to re-use or, more ominously, the inability to completely delete data in such a way that it is not recoverable. This is especially important for devices which are used to exchange corporate email messages.

Fortunately, http://www.wirelessrecycling.com/home/index.html WirelessRecycling.com recently introduced a service providing instructions on how to erase data from cell phones and wireless devices. Instructions are provided for a wide number of cell phone models, from a variety of popular manufacturers including: Audiovox, Blackberry, Ericsson, Handspring, Kyocera, Motorola, Nokia, Palm, Qualcomm and Sanyo, among others. The instructions are as straightforward as possible, but in some cases the method mandated by the manufacturer is complex in order to prevent data from being erased accidentally. Also, not all data erasures are complete. Some leave the phone number associated with the device in memory and others do not erase the data permanently, meaning it can be recovered.

It is not only the personal and corporate data stored on our devices that can create problems. New services, such as global positioning satellite (GPS) and 911 location services, sound helpful. They can help users find unfamiliar locations, avoid traffic and construction congestions or keep track of teenage drivers. They can help authorities locate individuals involved in accidents or track criminals. Unfortunately, such services can also be turned against individuals and used to determine when a home or office is unoccupied and thus a candidate for a break-in or provide a child's location for an abduction attempt.

Another potential threat is the use of instant messaging applications such as Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger or America Online (AOL) Instant Messenger, to send instant messages or text messages to mobile devices. The risk of using instant messaging software on corporate intranets and networks has been widely discussed. Cell phone and smart phone users may be less aware of the existence of virus and other malicious code specifically targeting mobile devices.

Using email may increase the security on the corporate end of the communication, however, unless similar precautions are taken by the phone user, data may still be at risk. Email can be sent via almost any email application to a cell phone as a text message simply by sending the message to the ten digit phone number at the carrier's email address. The carrier addresses for five popular cell phone service providers are:

  • Cingular: phonenumber@cingularme.com
  • Nextel: phonenumber@messaging.nextel.com
  • Sprint: phonenumber@messaging.sprintpcs.com
  • T-Mobile: phonenumber@tmomail.net
  • Verizon: phonenumber@vtext.com

In addition, data sent as text messages and email is among the greatest threats simply because it is not always deleted or deleted permanently, as indicated earlier in this article.

It is unlikely that the clock can be turned back on the use of mobile devices. Instead, users, both individuals and businesses, must be aware of the potential security threats and the methods to prevent sensitive personal and company data from getting into the wrong hands.

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