You’ve probably read a lot about hackers and how to keep your computer secure, but for some reason most people don’t really care about smartphone security.
Maybe because it doesn’t look like a traditional hard drive where you store all your documents, images, videos, etc., but today’s hyperactive smartphone users store a lot of information that is highly sensitive and that others, such as hackers, will gladly while you ‘re-browse the web at Starbucks.
Fortunately, smartphone security is gaining momentum, and there are quite a few things you can do to prevent your smartphone from being hacked. In fact, many of the measures you take to protect your computer can be used to protect your smartphone as well. If you have your own tips for protecting your smartphone, let us know in the comments.
1. Use passcodes everywhere
Whether you have an Android phone or an iPhone, you can deny access to your device by adding a passcode or lock combination on Android. This simple security measure can prevent others from seeing confidential information.
This is especially important if you have many applications installed that store personal data, such as financial apps (Mint, banking apps, etc.), Journaling apps (DayOne), note-taking apps (Evernote), etc. In some of these apps like Mint and DayOne, you can add a password specifically for that app, which I always do in addition to a home screen password.
The home screen password is important because many email apps (Mail on iPhone and Gmail on Android) don’t even have the ability to enter a password for your email. Emails can contain a lot of personal information, and since most people go to parties and leave their phones on tables and counters, it’s very easy for someone to find your stuff.
2. Protect your iCloud and Google account
Secondly, most people don’t realize that if someone can log into your iCloud or Google account, they can access a lot of data that you can create and edit from your smartphone. Currently, enabling 2-Step Verification on both accounts is a necessary inconvenience. I’ve written about how to secure your Google Account and how to properly configure your backup and restore settings for 2-Step Verification.
It’s kind of ridiculous, but your Apple ID basically controls access to all of Apple’s existing services, from iTunes to iCloud, FaceTime, iMessage, and more, etc., etc., your iPhone, iPad, and Mac remotely.
It’s the same with Google. Your Google account is used to sign in to all Google services, from YouTube to Gmail, Google Play, Google Maps, Google Calendar, Picasa, Google+, etc. Etc. Etc.
3. Avoid jailbreaking or rooting your smartphone
If you really know what you are doing and jailbreak or root for fun and enjoyment, then good for you. If you want to do this because you have heard about it in the news and want to be “free” of restrictions and limitations, then you should avoid this process altogether.
First, it can ruin your phone and cause you more grief than happiness. Secondly, you won’t be able to update your phone with the latest OS updates as it will be in an unsupported mode.
Yes, you can install some apps and tweak settings that you would not otherwise do, but that means you also download apps that might contain malware. You already have this problem on Android, as they are not as restrictive as Apple on what goes into the app store. This brings us to the next point.
4. Be careful with the applications you install
This is especially important on Android devices. Google recently removed 50,000 applications suspected of being malware. There will be no shortage of apps that contain malware, viruses, or other hidden software that can steal your data or damage your phone.
Apple’s app store also has this problem, but to a much lesser extent. Apple reviews every app before it is listed in the store and regularly removes apps from the store that are deemed to violate store policies.
Check out this article for an overview of how over 32 million Android devices were infected with malware in 2012 and how 95% of malware targets Android devices.
That’s ok if you hate Apple, but the point is, if you have an Android device, you have to be very careful when downloading apps. Check reviews, check if they have a website, do a Google search for app name, etc.
5. Use an app instead of a browser
If you are banking on your phone, trading stocks or anything else that transfers sensitive information between your phone and the Internet, it is better to use the official app for that site or company rather than opening it through the browser on your phone.
For example, Chase, Bank of America, Vanguard, ScottTrade, Mint, and many other major financial institutions have their own iOS and Android apps. Secure connections are also supported in smartphone browsers, but you’ll be safer if you get the official app, which may have additional security features.
6. Control what the app can access
You’ve probably seen the following message on your iPhone hundreds of times:
There are all sorts of messages “AppName wants to access your data.” The data can include photos, location, contacts, etc. Always be careful and don’t just click OK all the time. If you click on something all the time, it’s best to just select “Don’t Allow,” and if you really can’t use the app later, you can manually go back and change it to allow access. Most of them are legitimate requests and will not cause any harm, but it is better to play it safe.
It’s even worse on Android because some apps will ask for permissions for everything, even if they don’t need them. You can read this Lifehacker post on how to protect yourself from Android apps that ask for too many permissions. Android also has a lot more permissions than iOS, so again, you need to be more careful if you’re an Android user.
7. Keep a backup copy of the data
Backing up your smartphone is a good idea, not only in case you drop it in the toilet, but also in case of theft when you have to wipe it off remotely. Apple users can install the Find My iPhone app, which allows you to remotely lock and erase your phone if you know it’s stolen.
If you don’t have backups of your data, you will lose them all if stolen. If you back up locally or in the cloud, you can wipe your phone data and get all your data back to your new phone. You can sync your smartphone with your computer using iTunes, or create a cloud backup via iCloud.
Android has a built-in backup tool, but it doesn’t back up everything on your phone like iOS does. Instead, you’ll have to rely on third-party apps in the Google Play store for complete phone backups. Note that Android also has a remote wipe feature, but it needs to be configured first by installing certain apps.
8. Report your stolen phone
A database of stolen phones has been created over the past few months and is used by major wireless carriers. You can report a phone stolen and it will prevent someone from connecting to the carrier and using data or minutes.
If they try to erase it, replace the SIM, etc., it still won’t let them activate any of the carriers because of the serial number. You can visit the following pages to report theft of your smartphone and to prevent the thief from connecting to any wireless carrier:
AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile
9. Update the operating system
Just like you need to constantly install Microsoft security updates for your PC, it is recommended that you install the latest updates for your smartphone. You can wait a few days and make sure there are no major issues with the update such as reduced battery life, etc., but if nothing stands out, update your phone.
Apart from updating the OS, it is also recommended that you update the applications installed on your phone. It’s amazing how many smartphones I’ve come across with 10, 20, 30+ apps with updates for which none have been installed. These updates may include new features, but many of them are bug fixes, performance updates, and security fixes.
10. Wireless and bluetooth
When you are not at home, your best bet is to try to turn off wireless and Bluetooth completely and use a 3G or 4G connection whenever possible. The moment you connect to an unreliable wireless network, you are open to hackers looking for victims over the network. Even if you are not involved in banking or any other business related to sensitive data, a hacker may try to connect to your smartphone and steal data, etc.
When it comes to Bluetooth, hacking is not that common, but it is gaining in popularity as people start to use this technology in more than just headphones. You now have a watch connected to your phone via Bluetooth, fitness bracelets, and a whole host of other gadgets. If Bluetooth is enabled and discoverable, it gives hackers another way to see the data transferred between the Bluetooth device and your phone.
Hope these tips will help you in the unpleasant event that your phone is lost or stolen. I personally had to wipe my iPhone because I lost it and later realized that someone was using apps and data connection. This will definitely not happen again, even if my phone is lost or stolen, because I took care of its maximum protection. If you have any other tips for protecting your smartphone, let us know in the comments. Enjoy!