Study Finds Personal and Banking Data Likely Accessed on Found Cell Phones Before Being Returned to Owner: How to Protect Yourself

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Internet security firm Symantec (proprietors of, among other things, Norton Anti-Virus) have released the results of research that they have dubbed the “Honey Stick Project”. In Project Honey Stick, researchers “lost” a total of 50 cell phones in various cities around North America, including NYC, Washington D.C., LA, San Francisco, and Ottawa, Canada. The aim was to see what the average citizen would do with a found cell phone: would they try to reunite it with its owner, or would they do something more sinister with it? It turns out that the answer is “both”.

Symantec found that just half of the finders of the lost cell phones made any effort to contact the ‘owner’.

However, 60% of finders attempted to read the social media and email data on the phone, and a full 80% tried to access business information (the phones were seeded with files with names such as “HR Salaries” and “HR Cases”). Sixty percent tried to open a file marked “Passwords”.

Now, for those of you who don’t feel like doing the math, this means that even those who eventually attempted to find the owner of the lost cell phone still attempted to access very private information on the phone before contacting the owner.

But perhaps the most concerning result of all to come out of the Honey Stick Project is that nearly half of all finders tried to access the mobile banking account on the phone!

So what does this mean for those of you who have smartphones?

Well, first, don’t lose them. We don’t mean to be flip, but being a bit more careful about where you have your cell phone can never be a bad thing. Imagine it is your checkbook – and be just as careful with your phone as you would your book full of blank checks, because the risk of exposure is at least as great, if not more so.

Then, as Symantec themselves point out, password protect your cell phone so that only the lock screen with your contact information can be accessed by anyone who finds it; and, finally, talk to your carrier about subscribing to a “remote wipe” service which will allow you to remotely delete anything personal that is on your phone, should your phone become lost.


You can also search your app store (either iPhone or Android) for “remote wipe” apps.

What you can’t do, it seems, unfortunately, is rely on the kindness of strangers.

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One thought on “Study Finds Personal and Banking Data Likely Accessed on Found Cell Phones Before Being Returned to Owner: How to Protect Yourself

  1. Thank you bunches…I’m not all that but my daughter was telling me about banking on her phone today so I’m sharing it with her. I’m not surprised at the stats…I fear people are basically dishonest these days. Not all of them though, thank goodness. Thanks again…good information.

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