Kiwi phone hacking fears played down

CATHERINE HARRIS
Last updated 05:00 25/01/2013
Samsung Galaxy S3
DILEMMA: There are concerns about the growing popularity of the Android phones, which are not as secure as Appleā€™s iPhones and offer an open source approach, allowing requests for all sorts of information.

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Fears that Kiwi smartphones could be hacked are purely theoretical, a New Zealand telecommunications expert says.

Research by internet security firm Trend Micro has ranked New Zealand as seventh most vulnerable country in the world at risk of "privacy exposure" through their smartphone.

Their Australian-based spokesman, Aman Chand, said the number of threats globally from rogue developers was growing rapidly, particularly for Android phones.

But Paul Brislen, the Telecommunications Users' Association's chief executive, said the risks were "miniscule".

"I don't know anybody who has ever had a smart device hacked in any way, shape or form."

Brislen said concerns were based on the growing popularity of Android phones, which were said to have lower security than Apple's iPhones.

This was because Apple operated a "closed system," requiring developers to seek its approval before launching applications for Apple users.

Android took a more open-source approach, allowing developers to freely use it as a platform.

"I'm afraid a lot of this stuff tends to be terribly over-hyped by the security companies who want to sell a product," Brislen said.

However, he did agree with Chand that many people failed to look closely at the permission they gave before downloading applications.

Terms for Apple-based apps were standard, but Android-based apps could contain requests to access all sorts of personal information, including the user's address book or GPS location.

"I fully agree that's a risk."

Chand said most applications used the data they collected for benign purposes such as advertising.

But cyber criminals could use it to spam the user's friends, or rack up charges to pay-per-call numbers they had set up.

He said young people were particularly vulnerable because they were targets for fake versions of popular games like Angry Birds.

Users should always check the fine detail of download permission requests and visit review sites to find which applications were trustworthy, Chand said.

"All it takes is one malicious app to come out and then your identity's been stolen."

RISK PROFILE

Trend Micro's top 10 countries at risk of privacy exposure via smartphones*

1. India

2. Turkey

3. Philippines

4. Bulgaria

5. South Korea

6. Austria

7. New Zealand

8. Russia

9. Hong Kong

10. United States

* ranked by percentage of high risk apps

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- The Dominion Post

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