For over 10 years now OPSEC has been an expert provider of physical security and
Situational Safety Training in New Zealand. However, during the last decade security
needs have become ever more important in the digital world of the internet. In
developing its Integrity course OPSEC has learned how important digital security is
and many companies are taking great care around protecting their I.T systems.
There is one weak link though and that is the smartphone.
We’ve all heard the (continually refuted) rumours that Facebook’s apps secretly
listen to our conversations to figure out what ads to show us.
While Facebook has of course categorically denied that it’s listening to users, even if
true it could be the least sinister of privacy intrusions happening via your smartphone
from third-party developers.
Apple responded with a letter to queries from US lawmakers recently about what its
devices were able to listen to and ascertain about its users when they weren’t aware
the devices were doing so.
In the letter, Apple detailed all the ways users can turn off location tracking, Siri
listening (more on that below), and data collected from third-party apps. Although
Apple did make one point very clear that:
Apple does not and cannot monitor what developers do with the customer data they
have collected, or prevent the onward transfer of that data, nor do we have the ability
to ensure a developer’s compliance with their own privacy policies or local law
So how much should you care and what can you do about it?
The first of those questions only you can answer but you do have to ask yourself:
how much can you or your business risk? Here are a couple of things iPhone users
Turn off Siri
If you’re concerned that Siri might be tuning in when you don’t want her to, here’s
how to turn the digital assistant off:
Go to Settings>Tap Siri & Search>Turn off the toggles for “Listen for ‘Hey Siri'”
“Press [Side or Home] Button for Siri,” and “Allow Siri When Locked”
This will turn off Siri, but if there are nefarious apps out there, circumventing Apple’s
regulations that say developers have to make it clear when their apps are listening to
users, there’s no real way to stop that. You could tape over the microphone on your
phone, as many have taken to doing for their laptop webcams. But that would be
quite difficult and inconvenient considering that the microphone is quite handy when
using your phone as, you know, a phone.
How to turn off location tracking
Apple’s iPhones use a combination of GPS, cellular towers, and nearby wifi hotspots
to figure out where you are, and apps are supposed to only have access to this
information if you’ve explicitly given them permission.
If you want to ensure no third-party apps are tracking your location when you don’t
want them to be, head to Settings>Privacy>Location Services, and turn off the
green toggle. But be warned: This will mean that services that require your location
to work properly, like Uber or weather apps, won’t be able to do so.
On that same screen, you can turn off location tracking for individual apps, too. So
instead of turning off all tracking, you can turn off certain apps you’d prefer didn’t
know where you were at all times.
As we’ve stated, how much of this potential risk you want to tolerate is up to you and
there’s always a risk vs convenience balance to be struck and you may already know
these simple fixes. However, the technology involved with smartphones has been
gradual enough that we have had a somewhat relaxed attitude and therefore
complacent to the security risks.
Here’s something to consider: You may have spent thousands on the physical
security of your business – alarms, CCTV, locks etc. You may have spent just as
much on your I.T security – antivirus, firewalls etc. After all that how much are you
risking with some app that you downloaded for free?