Is There Ebola On That Smartphone?

Aliya Sternstein | | August 20, 2014

Medical staff treating patients with Ebola and other communicable diseases in Africa face a novel kind of smartphone security problem.  When aiding Ebola patients, "What about the mobile device that you hand off to the next medical person?" said Rocky Young, a practicing physician assistant and director of cybersecurity, information assurance, outreach and mobile security for the Defense Department. "These devices have to be hardened. They have to be secured. Alcohol will damage them if you clean them."

He was speaking at a mobile industry summit in Washington on Wednesday.  Liberia is reportedly enforcing a quarantine in a large slum area to stop the spread of the deadly outbreak.  Both Africans and Americans are reliant on cellphones for text messaging, accessing health information and --increasingly, especially in Africa -- mobile payments.

There is deep smartphone penetration in Africa, where land lines sometimes are nonexistent.  Almost 68 percent of cellphone owners in Kenya regularly use their device to make or receive payments, according to a February Pew Research Center report. Half of smartphone users in Uganda, 29 percent in South Africa and 24 percent in Senegal conduct mobile payments. In other emerging and developing countries, a median of only 8 percent can say the same...