According to a recent survey con­ducted by AVG Tech­nolo­gies, a global con­sumer secu­rity soft­ware provider, and the Ponemon Insti­tute, an inde­pen­dent research group, many smart phone users are com­pla­cent about the secu­rity risks that exist from using these mobile devices. Com­puter sci­ence pro­fessor Gue­vara Noubir, an expert in wire­less secu­rity, ana­lyzes this finding and assesses the poten­tial risks that stem from using smart phones.

Do you agree that Amer­i­cans are lax in their mobile phone security?

My feeling is that a por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion is lax, not everyone. People might down­load hun­dreds of appli­ca­tions to iPhones or Android phones, and I think some people aren’t careful enough about it. But the risks will keep increasing as phones become more ubiq­ui­tous and more sophis­ti­cated appli­ca­tions emerge, and because phones are with us all the time and we tend to trust them.

What are the greatest risks for cell phone users when it comes to secu­rity threats?

One poten­tial threat relates to the fact that people carry mobile phones with them all the time, so their loca­tion can be tracked. Some appli­ca­tions people use, such as apps that enable them to access their bank accounts, could be dam­aging if that infor­ma­tion is compromised.

These threats are related to many other aspects, including the fact that some of the pro­to­cols behind Wi-​​Fi and con­nec­tivity still have secu­rity issues. Others are related to the spe­cific user. Many apps will ask you to accept its terms, which could include sharing the user’s loca­tion. Many people don’t read these terms and just click, “Yes.”

A couple of weeks ago, sev­eral appli­ca­tions were taken off the Android market because they included mal­ware — meaning someone repack­aged them to include harmful soft­ware that reports user information.

Has mobile phone secu­rity soft­ware kept pace with the cell phone tech­nology, and how do you see this trend con­tin­uing in the future?

I think smart phone secu­rity is still just emerging, because cell phone tech­nology has evolved so quickly over the last few years. Man­u­fac­turers put secu­rity mech­a­nisms in their sys­tems that are quite good, but beyond that, many threats haven’t been real­ized yet. We haven’t heard about a really large number of people being com­pro­mised, so if and when that hap­pens, we’ll see more work done to solve these prob­lems. I think most people now are ignoring it because there is no immi­nent threat. It’s hard to pre­dict future threats, but overall, I feel if people are careful about what appli­ca­tions they install, their threat level is reasonable.