These days, smartphones are a one-stop payment, personal health, work, gaming, productivity, texting, tweeting, Facebook-checking machine. We use them to do just about everything, from mobile banking to navigating new places, to emailing out last minute notes on a project.
But whether it’s hacked browsers, petty thieves at the coffee shop, or your own tendency to lose electronics in cabs (hey, it happens to the best of us), using your smartphone as a centralized source for all of your information comes with big risks, and the more you’ve connected and stored, the more you stand to lose. In fact, in the last year alone, at least 7.1 million phones were lost or stolen
That’s bad news, not only for individuals but for countless businesses as well, particularly if they have BYOD policies, because each individual phone and carrier really varies in their level of security.
It’s no wonder, then, that so many individuals and businesses are starting to take mobile security seriously. Let’s take a look at few steps you can take to keep your phone—and its wealth of personal data—secure.
1. Use a Passcode
This may sound obvious, but according to a Consumer Reports survey, 64% of us don’t use our passcodes. (For the record, using the factory set passcode totally doesn’t count.) Quite frankly, not using a passcode is a horrible idea. You’re essentially handing over all of your personal information to anyone who swipes your phone.
When you set up your passcode, use the same security measures you would on any other device, such as not using your birthday or social security number for your passcode, and definitely not “1234.” Never share your passcode with anyone, even if they ask nicely or give you sad, puppy eyes. Don’t reuse passwords from other sites or devices.
While this is a subject of debate, most experts think it’s best to go with a pin rather than the swipe patterns, as the chances of guessing a pin are much lower than guessing a pattern. But hey, if it gets you locking your phone, either choice is fine.
2. Be Selective With Your Apps
That new app might look great, but with so many unknown third party providers out there, it can be difficult to know how private and secure it may be. For that reason, it’s best to go through a trusted app store like iTunes, Android Market or Amazon, and to thoroughly check reviews before downloading any app and entering your personal information.
Be particularly cautious with financial apps, the best of which shouldn’t require you to repeatedly enter account information in order to access your account.
3. Don’t Click on Suspicious Links
Maybe it’s those tiny, almost indecipherable screens, maybe it’s a false sense of security, but for some reason, people are three times more likely to click on suspicious links on their cell phone than on a PC. Our best advice for that? Don’t do it. Look more carefully at the URL, especially if they’re asking you to enter personal information. Most banks have a page explaining what they will and will not ask for. Do your research before divulging your personal details.
4. Enable Remote Wiping
Should your phone ever be lost or stolen, it would be great to erase your important data from afar. You can do this through remote wiping, and it’s relatively easy to do on most devices. An iPhone, for example, simply requires you to do enable “Find My Phone” on the device and to sign up for an iCloud account, which will be your command central when it’s time to wipe.
There are some concerns about corporations using location tracking software like this to infringe upon personal privacy rights. Look up the company’s policy, and make sure it’s something you’re comfortable with, before getting it all set up.
5. Keep Software Up to Date
Software updates often patch security and privacy holes users have found as they’ve tested the software out in the real world. Keeping your software up to date will mean you’ll have the very latest solutions. That said, sometimes it makes sense to wait a week, or two, before installing the latest versions to see if there are any problems with rollouts.
6. Use Security Applications
Both Spyware and Malware are becoming an increasingly formidable problem for mobile phone users. They track your whereabouts, send out your personal information, and slow down your phone. It can be difficult to avoid downloading these, and users often don’t know they’re running. To combat this, install security software, just like you might have on your computer, to protect your privacy against any unbeknownst mischief. Make sure that you keep this software up to date.
7. Stay Off of Open Wi-Fi Networks
Since smartphones are now acting like mini-PCs, avoid unknown open Wi-Fi networks, just like you would on your PC. As you type, malicious hotspots can transmit your credit card information and passwords without you even knowing it.
8. Write Down Your IMEI
Every phone has a fifteen digits serial number called an IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity), which can come in handy if your phone is ever lost or stolen. You’ll find it behind your phone’s battery or in the settings. It’s well worth writing down, as it can speed the process of getting the phone back to you.
9. Back Up Your Phone Regularly
Backing up your phone means you’ll always have access to all of your photos, music, apps and whatever else. This is of course important in case your phone gets lost or stolen, but it can also come in handy when you’re doing an OS update and experience a loss of data (it happens). Make sure to backup at least once a day for the best results, or consider using automatic syncing with a cloud program.
10. Guard the Data on Your Sim Card
If you decide to sell your cell phone, there are a number of things you should do before shipping it off to a stranger. One of the most important is to remove both your SIM and your SD card, both of which contain a wealth of data. Do this when sending your phone in for repairs, as well, particularly if you don’t know your repair shop well.
There are many security risks for smartphone users today, and these risks will continue to grow along with the devices’ popularity. Protect your phone, your data, and yourself by implementing just a few simple measures. Good luck, and stay safe.