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RMU Receives Grant To Teach Mobile Device Security

You spend hundreds on a smartphone and a case to protect it, but are you protecting the information inside the phone?

Researchers at Robert Morris University received a $224,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to start a program to inform people of the importance of securing mobile devices.

Karen Paullet, RMU information systems professor, said the program will teach faculty best practices to protect information on mobile devices so they can relay that information to students.

“Mobile in general is one of our weakest areas right now knowledge-wise, because it came about so quick,” Paullet said. “We use the devices, we use the information, but we’re not actually understanding the vulnerabilities of it.”

One of the easiest ways to protect information on mobile devices is to download an anti-virus program, although the challenge is getting people to actively do it, according to Paullet.

She said most students in her classes have an anti-virus on their desktop computer or laptop, and most of them have smartphones or other mobile devices, but only about 5 percent say they have an anti-virus on that mobile device.

“You’re enabling someone that actually knows how to steal information to jump right on and take anything they want off (your) phone,” she said. “We’re paying bills on it, you know. People aren’t thinking about what they’re doing with these devices.”

People need to be more aware of what information they send over open networks like public WiFi, she said.

“Remember, if you’re connecting to free WiFi, that’s it. It’s free,” she said. “So that means it’s open. Anybody that has the knowledge can grab anything you’re transmitting.”

Paullet suggests treating cell phones like you would your wallet, which would never be handed to an untrusted individual.

“You’ll walk up to a complete stranger, hand them your phone with all of your information,” she said. “I mean, we’re just not even thinking of the simplest things.”

Grant money will also fund faculty training for visiting professors from Middle Georgia State University and local community colleges, as well as development of a new five-course “mobile certificate” in conjunction with existing computer classes.