Since 84% of American households contain at least one smartphone and 90% contain at least one smartphone, desktop or laptop computer, tablet or streaming media device, talking about the growing adoption of smart devices is an understatement. This has also pushed up mobile internet usage: today, one in ten American adults are ‘smartphone-only’ internet users, meaning they exclusively use a smartphone to browse the web and don't have a traditional home broadband service.
While handy – because data, files, and more can be accessed on-the-go – mobile internet usage also brings its own security issues. The more we rely on smartphones, the more likely we are to store sensitive data on them, so it’s an obvious step to protect that data. Here is how you can hack-proof your smartphone.
1. Set a Strong PIN
More than a quarter of U.S. smartphone users don't use a screen lock, passcode, or other security feature to access their device, according to a recent Pew Research study. That's more than worrisome: just consider if the handset were to be lost, stolen, or left unattended, anyone who picked it up would get unrestricted access to its contents. And with your data up for grabs, you might wake up to a huge phone bill due to the phone calls they made, service bills you never registered to or, worse, your identity stolen… in other words, the potential loss is considerable.
Nowadays smartphones offer various ways to protect your privacy. Widespread among Android users are personalized shapes drawn on the lock screen called pattern locks, but there are also six-digit passcodes, four-digit PINs, biometrics, fingerprint scanners, and facial recognition systems – all of which will keep your data protected.
2. Run the Latest Software
The same Pew study also highlights a huge problem caused by the convenience factor of U.S. smartphone users. 40% say they will only update the smart device's apps or operating system when it is convenient for them. Some users even forget to update their software altogether.
One of the key aspects of protecting your digital life is to always keep your software up to date, otherwise you're opening the door to hackers yourself. It is recommended to install software updates as they are released. Also, avoid rooting or jailbreaking your smartphone, because this will break the built-in security layers that each operating system comes with.
3. Avoid Third Party App Stores
While Apple is very strict with its rules – apps installed on iOS devices from the App Store are first approved by the manufacturer – Google's app vetting process is not that strict. Given that the worldwide Android install base is much higher than Apple's, this leaves plenty of users as potential targets. This is why we hear of so many horror stories about malicious apps stealing sensitive data.
As such, you should avoid installing apps outside the legitimate App Store or Google Play Store. Forget any third party sources and you'll have peace of mind.
4. Control App Permissions
Your smartphone may seem safe at first glance, but as you download more and more apps it's easy to lose control of them. An app might be harmless when it’s downloaded but an update could easily turn it into malicious software, so if you are running iOS then take a look at Privacy tab in the Settings from time to time to check the info it displays. If you notice anything unexpected, get rid of that app immediately.
For Android it’s a little trickier since you’ll need to hunt down the “App permissions” menu by clicking on the gear icon in the Apps menu within the system settings. However, note that this feature is only available on devices running Android 6.0, which accounts for roughly 55% of Android users – even more reason to ensure your operating system is up-to-date.
Alternatively, you could use security apps such as Avast and McAfee to scan the smartphone and notify you of suspicious activity.
5. Use a Password Manager and a VPN
For the ultimate smartphone security, make use of our three-way rule for maximizing privacy protection:
- Browse the web in incognito mode (or a private window in Safari).
- Don't use a password for more than one account. Instead, use a password manager to store all your cryptographically secure passwords and automatically fill them when they are needed.
- Use a VPN when connecting to the web. This is particularly important in situations where you are using a public Wi-Fi network. Hackers love these networks because it's much easier to steal sensitive data from them. Protect yourself by using a VPN service and hackers will only see a flow of gibberish data since any transmissions from your device will be encrypted.
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