SMARTPHONE: Having your smartphone hacked feels like you’ve been robbed. Your smartphone not only stores your valuables; it also communicates to intruders which of your valuables are most important to you. If something is on the phone you always have with you, it is meaningful by definition. This massive invasion of privacy is a blatant violation of your personal space, and determining what is missing may take some time.
Smartphones, which are small devices that are constantly online sending and receiving signals, are a favourite target for criminals. You must devise a strategy for protecting your personal information in order to keep your phone and its contents safe and secure. Here are some tips for keeping your smartphone safe from hackers and intruders. The following examples are based on an iPhone 12 Mini running iOS 14.3 and an LG V40 ThinQ running Android 10.
Update your operating system and applications.
Many software updates and bug fixes contain security improvements that help guard your smartphone against data breaches and intrusions, or close off vulnerabilities, making it more difficult for hackers to break in. When an update for your smartphone’s operating system or any of the apps you use is announced, install it right away, or better yet, set up automatic installation for all.
Avoid using public Wi-Fi.
Everyone should be aware of the risks of using public Wi-Fi, because free Wi-Fi in shopping malls, cafes, airports, and other public places is open season for all kinds of online mischief. When possible, use only your private cell connection and turn off Wi-Fi on your mobile phone entirely when in a public place. If that isn’t an option, think about using a VPN app, which is a utility that tunnels network communications through an encrypted connection. But choose wisely — not all VPNs are created equal. Also, unless you’re wearing a smartwatch that requires it, consider turning off Bluetooth while you’re out and about.
Lock your smartphone
To enter your device, always use a four or six-digit passcode. Passcodes may be inconvenient, but peace of mind dictates that if your smartphone falls out of your pocket while you’re trying out new sofas at Ikea, the first person who picks it up should not be able to learn about your life from your email, contacts, photos, and banking information. Consider using a longer passcode that includes both numbers and letters. Not a big fan of passcodes? No need to be concerned. Fingerprint scanning and Face ID are quick and easy alternatives to entering numbers. While you’re at it, make sure any apps that contain personal information are password-protected as well.
Keep your mobile phone number private
Just as you wouldn’t give out your old landline phone number to anyone who asked for it, don’t give out your mobile number to any app that asks for it. The more places your phone number is available, the more vulnerable you are to SMS intrusions and scams, as well as the invasion of your protected 2FA accounts. Consider adding a second phone line to your phone. Google Voice is a great way to protect your phone number from online scammers, as are apps like Sideline, Line2, and Hushed, which allow you to add a second line to your phone.
Don’t overshare on social media
While it is acceptable to use your real name on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, avoid disclosing too much personal information about yourself on these platforms. Avoid including home towns, specific addresses, specific work locations, phone numbers, family names, and other information that hackers can use to track you down. With its privacy settings and tools, Facebook now allows you to hide a large portion of your personal information, including most photos, friend lists, and more. Curate and streamline your feed to remove old, out-of-date information that may reveal more about you than you want. Remove permissions and uninstall Facebook apps that you no longer require or use. Even better, if possible, use Facebook on your home computer rather than your phone.
Limit the number of geotagged photos in your Camera Roll or Gallery, and don’t store personal information, documents, or files on your phone. Make a habit of offloading images and documents to your computer and deleting confidential emails from financial, employer, and health-related accounts to keep your phone relatively clean.
Use two-factor authentication
Another obnoxious security measure that most people despise. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is disliked because it adds an extra step that is inconvenient if you forget to have your phone or watch nearby. But, like passwords, it serves a purpose by adding an extra layer of security in the event that your password is compromised.
Use strong passwords
Everyone despises passwords. But, when it comes to assigning them, don’t skimp. Use only strong passwords that are difficult for hackers to crack. They should have at least 16-20 characters and should include a mix of letters and numbers, upper and lowercase letters, and symbols. Brute force password crackers can decipher many strong passwords, but making it easy for hackers by using your birthday, pet’s name, or the same password for everything is a bad idea.
There are numerous secure password generators available online, so you don’t have to come up with them yourself. Change your passwords every six months to a year, or whenever you learn of a data breach involving any program you use. Oh, and one more thing about security questions: Tell the truth. Don’t answer security questions honestly, and change your answers for different configurations. Instead of your first pet’s name, you can use a password-style answer made up of letters and numbers for such questions. This makes it more difficult for hackers to figure out how to break into your phone using publicly available information about you online.
Beware of spam and phishing emails
One of the most convenient ways for hackers to infiltrate your phone and access your data is through your email inbox. Phishing scams are intended to dupe you into giving up access to your accounts. Clicking on links in promotional emails, opening suspicious attachments, or running app updates prompted by email should all be avoided. Instead of attempting to access financial accounts via random emails, go directly to the financial institution’s website and sign in with a proper username and password.
Use built-in device protections
They aren’t dubbed “smartphones” for nothing. If your phone is lost or stolen, you can limit the damage by using device tracking services like Find My iPhone and Android’s Find My Device, which can locate your phone on a map and, in some cases, automatically erase it. These services can also make your phone ring in order to assist you in locating a device that you have temporarily misplaced. You can also set the phone to delete all data after a certain number of failed passcode attempts.
Use an antivirus app
Malware is preferred by hackers for stealing passwords and account information. However, you can combat this with a smartphone antivirus app, some of which are spin-offs of popular desktop apps such as Avast, McAfee, and Panda. The smartphone app variations improve security by ensuring that any apps, PDFs, images, or other files you download are not infected with malware before you open them.
Control app permissions
Examine the apps on your phone to see if they have more permissions than they require. You have the ability to grant or deny permissions such as access to the camera, microphone, contacts, or location. Keep track of which permissions you granted to your apps and revoke any that are no longer required. On iPhones, go to Settings > Privacy to see a list of all apps and the permissions you’ve granted them. On an Android device, the exact path to app permissions varies depending on the device, but on a Google Pixel, look in Settings > Apps & notifications > Advanced > Permission manager, and on a Samsung Galaxy, look in Settings > Apps > App permissions (via the three vertical dots at the top right).
One thing you must be vigilant about is being prepared for the worst by ensuring that your phone is backed up in order to protect critical documents and images in the event that your phone is lost or stolen. We have instructions on how to back up your Android smartphone as well as your iPhone. At the very least, if your phone is lost or wiped, you can still access those important photos or files. If you have a backup of your iPhone, you can set it to wipe after 10 unsuccessful passcode attempts.
Understand where your apps come from.
Don’t just install any old app on your phone. While iPhone apps are limited to Apple’s App Store, which vets all apps sold on the platform, Android apps can be sideloaded, which simply means downloading and installing them from a source other than the Google Play Store. However, you must go into the settings and allow it. The best way to avoid malware on Android is to stick to the Google Play Store selections, which have been vetted by Google. Never download apps via text message because this is a well-known method for hackers to inject malware directly into your phone.
Avoid using public chargers.
Charge your phone only in trusted USB ports, such as those on your computer or in your car. Using USB charging ports in public places such as airports, public libraries, or coffee shops exposes your personal information to cyberattacks from unseen cybercriminals. If you’re travelling, bring an outlet adapter as well as your USB cable. A USB adapter will also protect your phone’s personal information from cyberattacks.
Do not jailbreak your device.
While jailbreaking allows iPhone users to access apps and software that aren’t available in Apple’s App Store (a big no-no in Apple Land), it also exposes your phone to viruses and malware. If you jailbreak your phone, you will lose access to Apple’s support resources. They will void your warranty, and Apple personnel will almost certainly be unable to assist you if something goes wrong.
When you are proactive in implementing proper safety precautions, you can rest assured that you have done everything in your power to protect personal and sensitive data from cyberattacks. This makes it much less likely that thieves will be able to steal your identity, infiltrate your personal life, steal your money, take control of your phone, and generally ruin your life.