Monday, October 20, 2008

Safeguarding Ourselves from Mobile Telephony

Mobile phones are a relatively recent phenomenon and are used for both personal and professional purposes. These phones are highly mobile communications devices that perform an array of functions ranging from simple voice communication to running computing processes.

Advanced mobiles provide the ability to connect to the Internet and surf the Web, perform multimedia messaging, exchange e-mail or chat using instant messaging.

These capabilities have inevitably resulted in mobiles been used to commit cyber crime. Their universal access offers opportunity and motive to the cyber criminal(s).

Advanced smart phones that provide access to the internet are also used to access pornographic content by underage youth. Designed for mobility these phones grant unique exclusivity and privacy to anyone who possesses such a device. Explicit images can therefore be transmitted through multimedia messaging and thereby circumvent parental and legal controls.

As mobile technology matures we need to question the security of mobile communications and identify the associated risks. This is particularly true in the areas of access to pornographic material by minors and m-banking. There is no silver bullet that can be applied to control the access and transmission of offensive material through mobile telephony.

Parents and guardians are strongly encouraged to speak openly with their children about online explicit material that can be accessed through mobiles.

Education is the first line of defense we can provide to youngsters. Mobile service providers must be active partners in this sensitization process.

It is technically difficult to regulate mobile usage and access. It is however easy to obtain evidence of illegal activity from the specific mobile and network. The following contents of modern mobiles can have value as evidence: IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity), short dial numbers, text messages, stored files, programs and audio recordings, logged incoming calls and dialed numbers and GPRS, EDGE, WAP and Internet settings.

M-Security has yet to be embedded into our mainstream policy and legislative frameworks. M-security refers to the policy, technical, managerial and legislative safeguards applied to mobile systems and data to protect organizational and personal privacy. The absence of these frameworks has for instance meant that it was difficult to prosecute the senders of SMSs that were used to inflame tension and incite ethnic hatred early this year.

Inhibiting offensive materials such as pornographic material and hate messages is extremely hard to enforce. Safaricom for instance has about 5 million SMSs being sent by their subscribers on an average day. Determining the source of an explicit SMS from this number is nearly impossible. The imperative is therefore on us to educate the vulnerable members of our society on how to safeguard themselves from the dangers of mobile technology.

Education is the only key.

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