Old Phones May Lose Safe Internet Access Soon, So Maybe It's Time To Trade In That Ancient Smartphone

Today you can do just about anything on a phone from banking to shopping to Facebook — but in order to do any of that, you have to trust that your phone is secure. Unfortunately that might be kind of a problem soon for people who haven't upgraded in a while, though: As BuzzFeed reports, on Jan. 1, 2016 older phones will lose safe Internet access. Uh oh.

The good news is that this only affects phones that are five years old or more, so most U.S. consumers should be fine; after all, the average American gets a new phone every 22 months. However, for people in the developing world — as well as anyone else running an older phone — this could spell disaster for their Internet access. So what's the story?

Basically, on Jan. 1, the current "cryptographic hashing algorithm" is going to switch to a newer version. And if those words don't mean anything to you, don't worry. The "cryptographic hashing algorithm" is basically like a cypher — it's the code that a website is put into which is then read by your browser (assuming the site is the real deal), and it helps keep Internet communications secure. However, experts believe that the current version, which is called SHA-1, is no longer safe, so they've prepared an upgrade, called SHA-2, which will go live on New Year's. The only catch is that older mobile devices won't be compatible, and will thus not have access to the encrypted Internet.

So what does that mean?

In a nutshell, if you're using a phone that's five years old or older, come 2016 you might not be able to access most sites on the web.

Like I said, this won't affect very many Americans, but it will affect millions of people around the world. In China, for instance, around six percent of Internet users will be affected, losing access to all encrypted sites. And China isn't alone. All told, this will affect over 37 million people, most of them from the developing world — which is a problem when you consider the many, many benefits the Internet has for people in developing nations.

So can anything be done to ensure that people don't lose access to the Internet?

Well, several organizations, most notably Facebook, have said they would prefer an alternate plan. The Chief Security Officer at Facebook, Alex Stamos, wrote in a blog post, "We don't think it's right to cut tens of millions of people off from the benefits of the encrypted Internet, particularly because of the continued usage of devices that are known to be incompatible with SHA-256." Additionally, CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince wrote in another blog post, “In a Silicon Valley tech company, where most employees get a new laptop every year and having a five-year-old phone is unheard of, this may not seem like a problem. But the Internet is used by billions of people around the world and most of them don’t have the latest technology.”

However, as of now, the plan is still heading forward. So if you haven't updated your phone in the past five years, now is the time to get on that.

Image: Pexels; Giphy