So many of us now have a smartphone and yet, we’re still being cavalier with your private details.
How much of your world do you hold in the palm of your hand? Smartphones have become the primary — indeed, for some people, the only — portal into our vast digital lives. From making to-do lists via Don’t Forget The Milk to doing our shopping on Amazon, our online banking, managing our health and working lives, and of course the unstoppable pull of social media, more and more of life’s interactions are taking place on this little oblong piece of glass and metal in our pockets.
Something about using a smartphone — a feeling both intimate and infinite — makes us feel uniquely invulnerable. And yet, by the very nature of their portability, unsecured devices pose a huge risk to our personal information. If we don’t keep our phones secure, we can stand to lose an awful lot more than just an expensive handset — confidential information, financial details and sensitive data can all be very easily stolen. Despite the risk, it’s alarming how little most people know about smartphone security.
Few people would think of using a laptop without some sort of security software to guard against hacking, viruses and email phishing, and yet very few take the same measures with a device which they increasingly use to replace the functions a laptop used to cover. Hackers can — and do — threaten your data in lots of ways through your smartphone, but for some reason we aren’t conditioned to think about protecting them in the same way as we do our desktop computers. Indeed, having ironclad protections for your mobile security is a little bit more challenging, but there are some relatively quick and easy steps to take which can result in big improvements. There’s no way to totally eliminate the risk unless you opt for a dumb phone instead, but they can be the first steps in making your smartphone experience more secure.
Check Your PIN
Want to get started straight away with a better security plan for your phone? The first step is to make sure proper PIN protected locking is enabled. It may seem simple but for the sake of a few seconds extra hassle, lots of people neglect to set PIN access up when they first get a new handset. If your device gets lost, stolen or you leave it lying around in public, it’s a huge security risk.
The convenience of leaving your phone unlocked, even for a few minutes, is far outweighed by the sheer amount of highly personal data it contains — and how easy it is for someone with bad intentions to access that while your back is turned. You may be able to investigate My IP and see your security settings on your PC, but you need to be doing the same on your phone too. The new generation of smartphones come equipped with fingerprint access or face scanning software so that you can unlock them with a touch or a glance, but you can and should still set up a pin for default access.
Face and fingerprint sensors aren’t completely secure and they can be tricked — with quite a bit of effort on the part of the hacker, although it’s still an outside risk. Set a passcode of six digits or more for ultimate security, or even better, a custom alphanumeric code. You should never select digits in sequence or with identifiable memorable numbers which could be obtained with a little research into your life (e,g., your birthday or that of your kids, your wedding anniversary). Some phones also offer unlocking patterns, but these are far less secure than a number, so don’t enable them on their own. Go into the Settings on your phone and find the option for lock screen security — familiarise yourself with it and change your passcode regularly using a passcode generator.
Hands up who regularly downloads the software updates they get notified on? Then hands up who thinks they’ll do it ‘tomorrow’ and has them queued up for weeks at a time? Ok, so those updates can be annoying, but it’s way more secure to be updating your operating system, apps and carrier settings on a regular basis. These will include security fixes and patches against known system glitches and security threats you won’t be protected against otherwise.
Check Your Permissions
These days we have greater, more refined control over exactly what each app installed on our phones can and can’t access. These usually include things such as your contacts’ list, your photos and your calendar, and increasingly, hardware too such as your camera and microphone. Don’t use the default settings through laziness — go through each of the installed apps on your phone and limit the permissions so it only has access to items it really needs to function. This isn’t just paranoia — apps such as Flash Keyboard have been caught tracking user keystrokes, linking to malicious ads and sending collected data to China.
Periodically check and customise your security settings for each installed app. We often grant permission without really realising what we’re agreeing to. It’s far better to turn things off by default and then grant access when you’re in a situation where you really need to.