How to Secure Your Smartphone

With so many data breaches and identity theft headlines in the news, you’ve hopefully loaded your home computer with antivirus software, installed a firewall, and created strong password protection.

Have you done the same for your smartphone? Odds are you haven’t.

According to a Nokia Threat Intelligence Report, smartphone malware infections have surged by 96% in the last few years. To make it even worse, 71% of phones have no security features to defend against those attacks, according to a survey by Alcatel-Lucent Motive.

Our phones store valuable data that can be targeted by hackers and malware. Taking precautions to protect that data is much like investing in an insurance policy, and most of it comes down to following best practices, and not buying expensive products.

Here are some simple ways to keep your smartphone data secure:

1. Update Your OS and Apps Regularly

Many people are guilty of ignoring phone operating system and app updates. Ignoring those updates can open you up to vulnerabilities that could compromise your personal information.

Hackers know how to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in systems. The longer you wait to update your phone, the more out-of-date your device is, making you an easier target for hackers.

Review the apps on your phone and delete those you no longer use. The danger is that outdated versions could be running in the background of your phone, exposing you without you realizing it. Next, make sure your apps update automatically since most updates include security fixes. It’s simple:

  • On an iPhone, go into Settings, scroll to iTunes & App Store, and check that Updates is selected for Automatic Downloads.
  • For Android, open Settings in the menu section of the Play Store app to verify that you have the Auto-update apps feature turned on.

2. Lock Your Devices

It may be easier to always keep your phone unlocked so you can get to your apps faster, but it also means a stranger could find your phone and open your banking apps.

To prevent that from happening, always use a four or six-digit passcode to open your phone. It should go without saying, but obvious codes such as 0000, 1234, or your birthday should be avoided.

Using biometric features like facial and fingerprint scanning is another way to increase security.

On both iPhone and Android, phone lock options can be set by going to Settings and Security.

3. Use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Wisely

Free public Wi-Fi sounds great in theory, and most people don’t think twice about joining a public network, but connecting to a network that’s not secure makes it easy for hackers to capture your information.

Free public Wi-Fi in areas like shopping centers, cafes, airports, parks, or gyms are not secure. In general, it’s okay for basic web searches or Netflix, but you should avoid entering passwords, personal details, and banking or credit card data.

It’s typically best to turn off your Wi-Fi whenever you are in a public place. The same rules apply for Bluetooth. Unless you wear a smartwatch or hearing-aid that requires that connection for functionality, it’s recommended that you turn off your Bluetooth when out and about.

4. Use Two-Factor Authentication Wherever Possible

Two-factor authentication is one of the least favored security options because, as the name implies, it requires an extra step. However, it offers another solid barrier to accessing your private information, and two-factor authentication is quicker and easier than most people realize.

5. Back Up Your Data

Bad stuff happens. Don’t compound the problem by not being prepared. Always back up your data. This is a good practice, and it protects your important documents and images in case of any loss.

  • For an iPhone, choose your device in the Settings and then back up to iCloud.
  • For an Android phone, make sure “Back up my data” and “Automatic restore” are enabled in the settings and then sync your data with Google.

6. Manage App Permissions

Check the apps on your phone to determine whether they have more privileges than they need. You can grant apps permissions like access to the camera, the microphone, your contacts, and your location. To see the permissions you have on each app:

  • For iPhones, go to Settings and tap on Privacy, where you’ll see a list of all permissions and the apps you’ve granted them to.
  • Android users can find app permissions in the Application Manager under Device > Application in some Android versions.

As a side note, don’t just download any app to your phone. While iPhones only run vetted apps from Apple’s App Store, standards aren’t as high on Android. The Android platform still allows you to install apps from less-regulated environments. The best way to avoid malware on Android is to stick with the Google Play Store, unless you’re sure you can trust an independent app from somewhere else.

7. Utilize Mobile Device Management

If your phone gets lost or stolen, you can contain the damage using basic smartphone features. Both Apple and Google offer device locator services, such as “Find My iPhone” and Android’s “Find My Device”, that can locate your phone on a map and automatically disable it.

These services can also make your phone ring, either alarming the thief or just locating a phone you have temporarily lost track of. You can even arrange for the phone to delete all information after five to 10 false passcode tries.

8. Use an Antivirus App

Hackers typically use malware to steal passwords and account information. There are plenty of smartphone antivirus apps — some of which are linked to companion desktop apps. These provide enhanced security by ensuring apps, documents, images, and other files you download aren’t infected with malware before you open them. Antivirus apps like Panda or McAfee can stop such threats.

The Bottom Line

Your smartphone is now an extension of your life, not just a convenience. If you lose your phone, your preparation in protecting your privacy and assets will be the difference between a minor financial loss and a complete disaster.

Take advantage of the security features you already have at your fingertips, instill good security habits, and, if necessary, purchase additional security software. There is no single solution. The key is to follow as many best practices as you can, as often as you can, to keep your bases covered.

LEO Cyber Security is a partner of Connexus Credit Union. LEO is comprised of some of the world’s most knowledgeable cyber security experts.