Near Field Communications, Dangers with Cell Phones and Wireless Cards.

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Near Field Communications, Dangers with Cell Phones and Wireless Cards.

Technology can be our friend and our aid and, at the same time, it can make our job very difficult.

Near Field Communications (NFC) is the umbrella term for wireless communication.  NFC is a form of contactless communication between devices like smartphones or tablets. Contactless communication allows a user to wave the smartphone over a NFC compatible device to send information without needing to touch the devices together or go through multiple steps setting up a connection.

So how is it described by NFC on their web site?

Bluetooth. Radio-frequency identification. QR codes. The modern world is ever expanding and with it comes new technologies that change the way we communicate and interact with each other.

Near field communication (NFC) technology lets smart phones and other enabled devices communicate with other devices containing a NFC tag. Whether swiping your smartphone at the checkout lane in the grocery store, waving it over a display at a local museum, or bumping phones with a friend to share the latest games, near field technology lets you pay, play, and learn easily.

Near Field Communication (NFC) is a set of short-range wireless technologies, typically requiring a distance of 4cm or less to initiate a connection. NFC allows you to share small payloads of data between an NFC tag and a receiver transmitter such as an Android-powered device, or between two Android-powered devices.

So where is the problem?  Security experts have discovered that an Android device can communicate with other Android devices in its proximity as well as all of those lovely wireless credit cards, passports and hotel keys we all have.

That is correct.  The smart phone you have hanging on your hip can read what is in your wallet.  It can also read and communicate with other NFC enabled phones and devices.  So if your Android phone has been hacked and or is infected with a malicious code, that communication ability is being re-tasked.  The phone will read your wireless cards such as credit cards,  wireless hotel keys, information from other wireless devices such as near by phones or tablets and send the information off  where?  It can also read your passports and send the information off to whom?

How do you know your card has NFC ability?  Simply look for this little “radio wave” icon on the back.

The explosion of malware attacking Android devices is shocking, to say the least.  At the end of July in 2012, there were about 5,000 known malware programs floating around; by the end of September 2012 this had increased beyond ten-fold to  51,500, and by end of the year 2012, there were over 283,000 malware programs identified.  There are 500,000,000 Android devices in use around the world, and the rate of infection is growing fast.  Last year at this time about 1% of Android Devices were infected.  Now, according to released statistics from some anti malware companies, it is estimated that about 5%, or 25,000,000 of the Android devices are infected.

But wait, there is more.  One attack last year emanated from a malnet which tricked users into downloading a phony Android version of Skype.  At the time, only 10 of the 41 antivirus engines on the free malware scanning website Virustotal recognized the attack.  This was brought to light at a security conference where a mobile device expert offered to test each device brought to him to see if the mobile device had been infected.   These are the mobile devices owned and operated by security experts – not one of our kids.  Fully 17% of the mobile devices had been infected in one way or another. Almost all were Android – few if any were Apple or Blackberry.

So what is one to do?

The Apple or Blackberry devices have the lowest rate of penetration, well under a half of a percent. So if you are looking for a new device, consider an Apple or Blackberry device.

However, if you have an Android phone, buy the anti malware service with regular updates.  The free version is better than nothing, but only just slightly.

Secure all cards with NFC in an Anti RFID Wallet.  Anti RFID Wallets can be purchased from €30.00 to €100.00 or more depending upon style and size.

I am advising all, to not only take these steps themselves, but also require all team members take the very same precautions.   A casual greeting hug can put an infected phone in one person’s breast pocket that can then read the NFC devices in the other person’s pocket or purse.  Sitting next to one another in the same car, airplane, dinner table, or even on the tube coming and going – you are exposed to a potential compromise.

I also advise having a discussion with your charges about this very simple bit of security, not only to keep them physically safe – so as not to inadvertently disclose their locations, but also for them to be fiscally safe  – so their ids and accounts are not compromised.

This Executive Protection article was written or edited by Barron James Shortt, the Executive Director of the IBA.


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