Identity theft and data breaches have been making big headlines — and for good reason; smartphones are key targets when it comes to hackers and thieves. That slim device in your pocket holds a lot of data about you — likely enough information to wreck your financial life and create all-around havoc if it fell into the wrong hands.
Here are some smartphone security tips to protect your device — and yourself — from harm.
Use Passcodes or Other Secure Locking Strategies
Of course, you already lock your phone with either a PIN code, a pattern lock or facial/fingerprint recognition, right? If not, stop whatever you’re doing and secure your phone!
Some experts think that a PIN or passcode is more secure than any biometrics or pattern lock, especially a complex passcode or a PIN longer than four digits (if your phone supports it). For example, researchers have shown that 95 percent of Android pattern locks can be cracked within the five allowed attempts. Other weaknesses have been reported as well, including the fact that repeated pattern entry can result in a trail of fingerprints on a device that can lead a hacker to the correct pattern.
Whichever options you choose to secure your phone, use them consistently.
Enable Remote Locking
Ensure that you are taking advantage of your phone’s ability to remotely lock itself and even erase itself if stolen. On Android phones, activate Find My Device, which requires Google locations services to be turned on. Using Find My Device, you can lock your phone and sign out of your Google account. You can also erase your device completely, which is admittedly an extreme solution but very useful when needed.
For iPhones, use Find My iPhone to lock your phone or erase its data. Turning on Find My iPhone instantly enables enables Activation Lock, which requires your Apple ID and password before anyone can turn off Find My iPhone or erase, reactivate or use your phone.
Keep Your Apps and Operating System Updated
General consensus dictates that the iOS platform is less susceptible to malware than Android, but both are equal targets for equal targets for hacking personal data. One of the best ways to avoid hacking is to keep your operating system and apps updated. Developers continually release patches meant to address security vulnerabilities, so don’t ignore those update alerts (as irritating as they may be).
Disable All Auto Login Services
And we do mean all. Sure, it’s a pain to re-enter your password every time you open an app or a browser bookmark, but consider the flip side: It’s equally easy for someone else to open an app, log in automatically and gain access to your data.
Take Care When Downloading Apps
Only use apps approved for your operating system, meaning those from the App Store for iOS phones or from Google Play for Android phones (even these apps are not foolproof, but at least they’re far less likely to come with a piggybacking virus). As tempting as it might be to root your Android or jailbreak your iPhone, gaining access to a few additional apps won’t be worth much if it means opening a window to hackers or viruses.
Install an Anti-Virus App
You wouldn’t think of operating your PC without anti-virus software, so why is your phone any different? While neither iOS nor Android currently ship with a native anti-virus app, a host of excellent apps are out there to protect your phone, both for iOS and Android.
Connect Only to Secured, Trusted Wi-Fi Networks
Honestly, every Starbucks — or anywhere else with unsecured Wi-Fi — should be required to post a big warning sign. Nothing is more dangerous than surfing the net on an unsecured network, complacently flipping between email, Facebook or — worse — a site or app that holds important, private data. Just don’t do it.
Shelley Hoose is a writer and editor with a background in tech and the environment. Find her at http://theagilepen.com.