We’re a culture obsessed with our phones. On average, we check our mobiles 46 times a day and 38% of the population confess to using their phones too much. With mobile usage surpassing desktop and showing no signs of slowing, security teams need to consider the respective differences in the way that people use mobile phones compared to more traditional types of IT like laptops.
Dr Rajesh Bhargave, assistant professor at Imperial College London, touched upon user habits at global mobile security event, Level 2018. He highlighted three dominant pillars of context in relation to mobile: situation, design and the relationship we have with our mobile devices.
Rajesh highlighted that, in general, we’re getting more screen time throughout the day. A Microsoft study shows that desktop dominates during core working hours and mobile is more prominent during the morning commute and evening prime time – no shock there. But time of day is one of the contextual factors we tend to forget about.
In the evenings there are greater environmental distractions such as children and life admin, we have less self-control as well as other underlying factors like our schedules, associative behavior, alertness and a sense of being less visible.
Evidently, there are a whole host of reasons for us to be less discerning about our mobile activity in the evening, and it’s something that security teams need to be mindful of.
Physical location is another situational factor at play. With laptops, there are only a few viable situations in which you can pull it out and start working, a mobile on the other hand is accessible enough to be used in any situation which increases exposure to less protected environments.
Mobile companies spend millions, if not billions, on design to make their devices as easy to use as possible, so much so that we expect to use mobiles in ‘distracted mode’. The obvious example is walking – how often do you see people strolling down the street staring at their screens and almost bumping into something – it’s very common.
Whatsmore, smartphones are inherently setup for multitasking. Each app is vying for our attention and it’s perfectly normal to flick between them. This is a custom that mobile users have come to expect and are comfortable with according to Rajesh. Despite being happy to move between apps, it’s mentally taxing and can inhibit productivity, increasing the likelihood of mistakes.
If multitasking on a device might lead to more car accidents, we might expect to see more accidents on the device itself in terms of response to notifications and emails whilst they are in this mindset.Rajesh Bhargave, Imperial College
We’re emotionally attached to our phones in a way that we haven’t seen with traditional IT. For a lot of people, it’s the gateway to their lives, it goes with them everywhere, they sleep beside it, it’s first thing they check in the morning, paw at it all day, and it’s the last thing check before they go to bed.
It’s a source of comfort for people, a social crutch. For example, how often do you find yourself at a loose end in a social situation like at a party or even in an elevator and you take out your phone just to do something.
There’s an element of social reward attached to our mobile that creates a ‘checking habit’. When we’re bored, we check our phones to see if we’ve got any likes on Facebook or RTs on Twitter. In fact, studies show that we receive a dopamine hit when we get notifications from our social media.
Security threats are aggravated by a mobile usage context, the attachment we have to our devices, the times at which people use their mobile device.
Understanding the relationship we have with mobile technology and the contextual signals that affect our behavior is critical in the formulation of usage policies. Security teams need to think about creating a clear separation between work and personal usage.
When something is as pleasurable and personal as a phone, we’re more emotionally invested and therefore become less cautious.Nathalie Nahai, Online Pyschologist
Learn more about mobile behavior
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