If you're wondering why some bank customers are reluctant to adopt mobile banking, look no further than a study released this month by computer security firm Symantec.
The study began with Symantec personnel "losing" 50 smartphones in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; and the San Francisco Bay area. The smartphones were equipped with special tracking software that allowed researchers to find out what the people who found the phones attempted to do with them. They monitored what apps the finders attempted to open, what websites they attempted to access, and where they took the phone physically.
The results can't be comforting for those who keep and access sensitive financial information and conduct financial business on their smartphones. Here are some points from the study.
- An attempt to access an online banking app was observed on 43 percent of the devices.
- A "Saved Passwords" file was accessed on 57 percent of the phones.
- Sixty-six percent of the devices showed attempts to click through the login or password reset screens (where a login page was presented with username and password fields that were prefilled, suggesting that the account could be accessed by simply clicking on the "login" button).
- Of the 50 devices, the owner only received 25 offers to help, despite the fact that the owner's phone number and email address were clearly marked in the contacts app.
While the sample size of the study was relatively small, it does suggest that if you're using technologies like mobile banking, mobile payments and person-to-person payment apps and you lose your smartphone, it's very possible the person who finds it will attempt to use them to steal from you.
That's probably why, when Google introduced its Google Wallet service, the company recommended customers who lose their smartphones cancel any credit or debit cards connected to the service. It also explains why a lot of mobile banking apps don't have the ability to actually move money unless it's a transfer between a customer's own preregistered accounts.
If, like me, you think the convenience of mobile banking is worth the risk, there are a couple of things you can do to protect yourself. No. 1 is to password protect your phone. While a locked phone can still be hacked by a computer-savvy thief, it's less likely a run-of-the-mill criminal, or simply a person who can't resist the temptation to access your accounts, will be able to access your smartphone's financial information.
If you use your mobile browser to log in to financial sites, I'd also counsel against saying "yes" to requests to remember your password, and be sure to select the "public computer" option when signing in.
Does this study make you less likely to conduct financial business on your smartphone? Are there any other tips you think can help protect your financial information on a lost smartphone?
Follow me on Twitter: @ClaesBell.