Guest post by Shahrum Gilani, founder of HandsetExpert and author.
Whether we’re online shopping, checking our bank balance or typing out emails, nowadays there’s not much we can’t do on our smartphones. As such, there’s inevitably lots of data on our smartphones that we wouldn’t want falling into the wrong hands. Browsing history, email exchanges, photos, videos and even our bank details can be accessed by those with the knowhow.
If you’ve recently got a new smartphone or are thinking about it, it’s important to consider what steps you can take to protect your privacy from thieves and hackers. Mobile operating systems vary slightly in terms of the security features they provide, but here are five straightforward steps you can take to secure your smartphone.
Install software updates
In the same way you would a computer, it’s important you install software updates on your smartphone as soon as they become available. It’s tempting to defer the process when you need to use your phone or if you aren’t connected to wifi, but updates are there for a reason.
One of the main reasons for new versions of Apple iOS or Android OS is to provide us with updated features.
Although we might be perfectly happy with our smartphone’s functionality these updates have a much more important role than just changing the look and feel of our apps. More importantly, these updates iron out any security issues or vulnerabilities that have been identified and fixed by developers.
Avoiding software update installations when your smartphone prompts you to may leave you exposed to hackers, so don’t take the risk. It’s always worth backing up your phone before updating so that you have a copy of your information should you need it.
Be mindful about what you install
There are apps for everything these days, but whatever it is you’re interested in, ensure that you’re installing them from a reliable and trustworthy source. Both Apple and Android have their own app stores (App Store and Google Play respectively), and checks are carried out to ensure apps are safe for users to install.
With literally millions of apps to choose from, it’s worth sticking to official channels such as these, rather than running the risk of downloading something potentially intrusive from a third-party site. For Android users, all apps are tested before they appear in the Play Store. The built-in malware protection Google Play Protect also checks an app when you download it and then periodically checks your device to stop any potentially harmful apps from working.
Android users are advised to always keep Play Protect switched on to ensure your device and data are protected. Apple go to great lengths to rigorously review every app before it appears on the App Store, to ensure they’re safe for iOS users to install and use. You should also be mindful of the permissions you are granting to your apps as some require access to your camera, photos, microphone and so on.
While denying some permissions might restrict the app’s use, consider if you trust it enough before you agree.
Be mindful when using public wifi
Free wifi in places such as coffee shops, airports and shopping centres can feel like a saving grace when you’re running low on your personal data allowance, but be careful before you connect to public wifi networks. It might seem harmless to connect in order to check your emails or bank balance, but unsecured wifi can leave your private information exposed. These are known as Man-in-the-Middle attacks (MitM), where nearby hackers come between you and the connection point. When you connect, any data you send is then intercepted by these ‘eavesdroppers’. With this in mind, think twice before you hop onto free wifi if you’re intending to use it to do any banking, online shopping, or anything that requires you to enter sensitive information, and consider using your 3G or 4G connection instead.
Make your phone password strong
Make access to your smartphone as difficult as possible for thieves who manage to get their hands on your device.
Think of it like leaving your keys in the ignition or your door unlocked overnight: you wouldn’t do it, so the same should apply to your smartphone. Make sure your phone locks immediately whenever it’s not in use. iOS and Android users can set six digit passcodes and on some devices you can also opt for alphanumeric, fingerprint or facial recognition locks too.
For an additional layer of security, iOS users can lock many apps through their settings (and in some cases with Touch ID) so that if hackers do gain access to your phone, your private information is further protected. On Android, you can install App Lock from the Play Store which will allow you to lock individual apps, keeping them safe from predators.
Prepare to track and lock your smartphone
While devices can be replaced, having your private information hacked into is more difficult to resolve, but there are measures you can take to track and lock your smartphone in the event of it being lost or stolen.
For iOS users, this is done via your iCloud account and the Find My iPhone app, but you’ll need to ensure you have this set up on your device. This allows you to locate your missing device on a map or make a sound to help you find it, while Lost Mode allows you to lock and track your device, and even remotely erase all of your personal information.
For Android users, Find My Device will be automatically switched on after you’ve signed into a Google account on your smartphone. With this facility it is then also possible to remotely find and lock your smartphone, as well as erase your personal information by going to Android and logging into your Google account.