Exchange and Outlook Blog

Smartphone Security & Nomophobia

I learned a new word this week: nomophobia. It's a made-up word, but then all words were made up at some point. When I first saw it, I thought it might be the fear of baseball players with names like Hideo Nomo or Nomar Garciaparra. Instead, it's defined as a fear of being out of mobile phone contact -- "no-mobile-phone phobia." As a self-professed smartphone addict who's already grown quite attached to my Droid Razr Maxx, I had to stop and consider this word.

I saw this term in the results of a study sponsored by security vendor SecurEnvoy. According to this survey of 1,000 people in the United Kingdom, 66 percent admitted to suffering from nomophobia. Younger age groups typically showed higher rates of nomophobia, which is probably to be expected since these are the individuals that have grown up with mobile devices practically grafted to their hands like a natural part of the appendage. In a similar study in 2008, 53 percent of respondents suffered nomophobia. The increase seems to be consistent with our growing dependence on our mobile devices.

In a study sponsored by a security vendor, naturally they looked at how people secure their devices as well and found that 46 percent reported using no security of any kind -- no access code, no encryption. At the high end for secure devices, a mere 3 percent of respondents reported using 2-factor authentication. (Personally, I suspect that 3 percent all work in the computer security field or are perhaps the nefarious type of people we're protecting our devices against.)

Having an access password for your smartphone can be a bit of a bother, sure. On the other hand, isn't it more of a bother if someone finds that unprotected phone you lost and calls their best friend in Iceland before you notice it's gone, sticking you with the bill? Let's not even worry about what other data -- passwords, credit card numbers -- you might have stored access to in your phone's browser and apps. Putting in a little 4-digit PIN starts to seem a lot less onerous, if you ask me.

I don't think I'm a nomophobe. (And by the way, when this term was coined relating to mobile phones in 2008, someone should have done a little checking; it already had a definition as "A fear of or disdain for laws," but that's not nearly as interesting, right?) I don't think I fear being without my smartphone. But then, if I always keep it with me, I guess I won't have to find out.

Ah, spoken like a true addict.

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins
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