What Paris Hilton Has Done For You

Hilton posed at the VH1 Big in '04 awards Dec. 1, 2004, in Los Angeles. Last year's worst-dressed star, hotel heiress Hilton is number five this year. Says Blackwell, "This is one Hilton that should be closed for renovation!" AP

Over the years I've reported on hack attacks against banks, newspapers, businesses and even the websites of the White House and CIA. But now it's getting personal.

Names and numbers from Paris Hilton's cell phone have been stolen - possibly by a hacker - resulting in the private phone numbers of numerous celebrities being posted on the Internet. Those whose numbers were revealed include Christina Aguilera, Ashley Olsen, Ashlee Simpson, Vin Diesel and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

This may turn out to be Ms. Hilton's greatest contribution to mankind. Thanks to her, you can bet that the entire mobile device industry will focus a lot more attention on security.

Hilton was reportedly using a T-Mobile Sidekick cell phone. At this point it's not clear how the information was pilfered. It could have been a hack, it could have been an insider with her provider or perhaps her phone was lost or stolen.

Regardless of how the information got out, it's pretty clear that Hilton was carrying a phone that is also a powerful personal digital assistant. No wonder they're vulnerable to attack: they're handheld computers that are also two-way radios.

Danger's website proudly points out that the next version of its phone software will support Sun Microsystems's Java 2 Platform. Microsoft has developed cell phone software for Motorola and other companies based on its PocketPC operating system. Nokia and several other phone manufactures are now shipping "smart phones" built around the Symbian operating system. Blackberry also offers a number of full-featured devices that can not only make phone calls and exchange message, but surf the web and store all sorts of personal information.

News of the Hilton cell phone security breach occurred just two days after the first cell phone virus, Cabir, infected an American phone. The infected phone was discovered at an electronics store in Santa Monica. Like old-fashioned viruses, Cabir is airborne. It is transmitted between devices that use Bluetooth: a technology that makes it possible for phones to wirelessly exchange data with PCs and other devices. Other PDAs and cell phones are equipped with WiFi wireless connections that also make them vulnerable to attack.

The cell phone industry and anti-virus companies are starting to work on better security for cell phones but, if it's anything like PC security, it is likely to be a cat and mouse game with the good guys always struggling to stay ahead of the hackers.

Helsinki-based F-Secure already makes anti-virus software for phones. F-Secure Mobile Anti-Virus product works on specific Nokia and Siemens phones, Symantec also offers anti-virus protection for some but not all Bluetooth equipped phones.

But even if you're not worried about a hack attack, you should still be concerned about the security of information in your phone or PDA. It doesn't take sophisticated technology to pilfer data if the phone is simply lost or stolen.

Ultimately, it will be up to the carriers and phone manufactures to provide better protection but in the mean time there are some basic things that consumers can do to protect the data stored in their phones.

David Steinberg, CEO of InPhonic, parent company of WireFly.com, a wireless device comparison shopping site, offers advice for protecting your phone data. He suggests you "activate the phone lock when it's not in use," so "if the phone is then lost, it is unusable."

By phone lock, he means a series of numbers that serve as a PIN or password. He also recommends you "privatize the address book section" which provides another level of protection if the phone is lost, stolen or hacked into.

Steinberg also recommends that you activate the key pad lock features and "delete private or personal emails after review." Finally, he urges that people "treat the phone as a personal computer, be sure to read the manual and learn the many ways to safeguard the valuable information stored in it."

My only regret about the Hilton incident is that my name wasn't in her phone book. I'm hurt.


By Larry Magid
  • Christine Lagorio

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