INVESTIGATORS: Apps and access - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

INVESTIGATORS: Apps and access

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Flickr/Creative Commons/Jason A. Howie Flickr/Creative Commons/Jason A. Howie

Anyone who believes cyber crooks are focused on targeting customer data from big chain stores like Target will want to think again -- a new wave of attacks could be aimed at smart phones and tablets.

For Michelle Loban, it all began when $350 vanished from her debit card account.

"I was furious," she admitted. "I was so mad."

Then, paranoia set in.

"I felt hopeless because there was nothing I could do," Loban explained.

Loban is one of the millions who were burned by the data breach at Target. Now, she fears hackers could infect her tablet and steal other personal information -- and cyber security experts say that's a reasonable concern.

"If you're using a mobile device, if you're using a PC, if you're using a tablet -- you are a target," Alan Brill said.

The same kind of malicious software that hit the red bull's eye in the retail industry can also wreak havoc on hand-held devices. Mark Lanterman, a computer forensics pro, has seen the damage malware can do to a smart phone first-hand.

"I could have access to your contact list. I could have access to your e-mails. I could have access to location, voicemail, text messages," he explained.

Financial information can be compromised too when using a mobile device for banking or shopping -- but how can a person tell? Some telltale signs include:

- A spike in dropped calls or other disruptions

- Unusual download or upload activity reflected on data plan usage records

- Shortened battery life

"The battery is draining faster because it's sending the bad guy your stolen information," Lanterman explained.

But how do the bad-guys break in? Cyber security experts say the easiest way is to trick a person into downloading an infected app that looks legit. That secret entrance could hidden in a free game or a nifty tool, and Lanterman warns Android users that their devices are more at risk.

"The Android Market does not have the same security policies in place as the Apple app store," he said.

Before downloading any app, it's a good idea to check out the publisher and read reviews. The app's user agreement could also provide a clue too. If the app is for a flashlight, it shouldn't need to look through your contacts.

Once thieves have access to financial or personal data, they can sell it on a worldwide black market. There are even websites that serve as an online shopping mall for stolen credit and debit card numbers. Buyers can pick and choose what they want, even select a card by state and city.

The more data a crook can accumulate about a person, the easier it is to steal their identity.

"The bad guy is never going to come into a bank and open an account in their own name," Perry Forst, president of Citizens State Bank, said.

Forst's bank put an extra line of defense in place to prevent anyone from posing as another person because a lot of people are concerned after the Target breach. If a teller doesn't already know and recognize a customer, they'll ask for ID -- but instead of just looking at a license, they now have a machine that reads the magnetic strip on the back. That means the picture on the card must match the DMV database or else.

"If that doesn't match up -- well, have a seat over there and 911," Forst said.

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