Our smartphones now hold our entire lives in our pockets—our data, photos, emails, contacts, financial information, and on and on and on. Every single personal detail about us is on our devices. Even ones that we forgot about long ago, like that password to your bank login that you wrote down in your Notes app.
When we think about all the personal data our phones hold, we might wonder . . . just how smart are we actually being with our phone security? Just how easy is it for the bad guys to get access to our stuff?
Here’s a sobering fact: The U.S. took the number one spot for mobile ransomware in 2018, with 63% of the world’s infected mobile phones.1 Yikes!
Everyone’s vulnerable. But the last thing you want to do is throw up your hands and think there’s nothing you can do to prevent hackers from getting ahold of your stuff. You can defend yourself and make your phone a lot more secure.
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What exactly is phone security? Think of cellphone security as setting up your own kind of firewall against all the different kinds of fraud out there. Like installing a ton of locks on your door to keep thieves out of your house.
Here are eight things you can do to protect your phone from hackers.
1. Use Anti-Virus Software
All smartphones come with some kind of protection already in place against hackers. If you’re an iPhone user, don’t worry about getting anti-virus software. Apple made their phones with their own shields against viruses.
But for folks with Android phones, you’ll want to get something like Google Play Protect. It’ll run safety checks on apps you’re installing and it regularly checks apps you already have.
Because of attacks like ransomware, it’s also a good idea to add a second layer of protection. Ransomware is when hackers get access to your phone’s data and then demand money if you want your files back. Scary, right? And those ransomware infections on mobile devices were up 33% in 2018 compared to 2017!2 Look into trusted companies like Norton to keep your phone safe.
2. Use a Full Password
Sounds basic, but start with locking your screen. It’s an easy way to prevent someone stealing your data if you lose your phone. And did you know you can use an actual password to unlock your phone? Sure, it’s quick and easy to just punch in a few numbers or draw a pattern (1111, anyone?)—but using a password will give you a better chance at keeping your phone secure. (And no, passwords like “password0” and “abc123” just don’t cut it anymore.)
When you’re creating a password:
- Don’t use family names or birthdays.
- Use a memorable phrase or a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Use your phone’s fingerprint or face recognition technology as an extra layer of security.
If you have an iPhone, you can also enable the Erase All Content and Settings feature, which means if you do have a passcode and it’s unsuccessfully entered 10 times, all your phone’s data will be wiped. But having this feature enabled is probably not the best idea if you have a toddler who likes to play with mom or dad’s phone while it’s locked!
3. Install Updates on Your Phone
We’ve all been guilty of ignoring our phone’s notifications that ask us to install the latest software updates. Delaying it for just one more day can’t hurt, right?
But if you aren’t installing your phone’s latest updates, you’re leaving yourself exposed to security threats. Those updates make sure that any bugs or weaknesses found since the last update are squashed.
Pro tip: If your phone is being suspiciously quiet and never prompts you to update it, it’s time to upgrade to a new model. And don’t forget to update that Apple Watch. It’s an extension of your phone, so take the same precautions.
4. Use Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication has become standard practice on the internet as another layer of phone security. It’s annoying, yes, but it’s one of the best ways to improve your phone security.
Here’s how it works: If you’re trying to sign in to your account from another device, you’ll need to pass an extra level of security with a six-digit verification code. Once you request the code, it’s sent to one of your trusted devices via a text or a phone call. The device could be your phone itself, a Mac, PC, iPad or even a security token or dongle (which can be bought separately to sync up with your Apple or Android products).
You can set up two-factor authentication pretty easily in the Settings section of your phone.
5. Delete Apps You Don’t Use
Each app on your phone contains its own batch of potential security issues. And many apps want permission to access your contacts, photos, GPS location and microphone. But app-based attacks are a big way hackers can get in.
Here’s how to keep on top of your app housekeeping:
- If you’re not using an app, just uninstall it. The fewer apps on your phone, the less open you are to potential attacks.
- Review which apps are accessing your phone by going to the Settings tab and then Apps and Permissions. You can limit permissions by tweaking these settings.
- Whatever you do, don’t click on suspicious or weird files and links sent to you in an email, text or app—no matter what they’re promising and how urgent it sounds. When in doubt, just don’t click on it!
- This one’s crucial (that’s why we italicized it). Only download apps from your phone’s primary app store. Don’t jailbreak your phone. Jailbreaking is when you hack into your own phone to download or use custom software or apps that are not normally available. Just. Don’t. Do. It. It may be fun or practical, but it’s not worth the risk.
6. Be Careful About Public Wi-Fi
We know that free internet is tempting when you’re waiting in line at Starbucks. But everyone sitting around you is probably using that same unsecured network. Using Wi-Fi networks opens your information up to hackers.
Avoid putting yourself at risk of identity theft and just use your phone’s data when you can. Or get a VPN (Virtual Private Network). These hide your IP address so it’s not traceable. And if you’re using your phone as a hotspot, make sure it’s encrypted.
7. Don’t Charge in Public
While it’s not always totally realistic (we get it, you need your phone juiced for GPS once you land), avoid charging your smartphone in public places on a USB port. Many people don’t realize that USB ports are not just giving you an electrical charge. They actually transmit data and can leave you vulnerable to an attack.
8. Back Up Your Phone
Whether your phone is lost, stolen or damaged beyond repair, you should take the time to back up your phone’s data. If you don’t want to back up your phone the old-fashioned way (by actually plugging it into a computer), use a cloud storage option (Apple iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive).
And if you’re not sure where your phone is, iPhones offer a Find My iPhone feature (Find My Device for Android). This will help you track it down if you’ve misplaced it, or let you remotely wipe your data if it’s been stolen. And if you’re wondering if your identity has been stolen, never fear. There are resources that can help you get your identity back.
Okay, you made it through. We know it’s a lot. But even if you take action on just some of these things, your phone security will be a lot stronger. These tools and tips do stop or slow down hackers. As the bad guys get more and more sophisticated, it’s on us to do everything we can to protect our data.
For an added layer of security across all of your personal information, check out Zander’s Identity Theft Protection plan. They’ll monitor your information and alert you when it’s at risk, and provide complete recovery services if you ever become a victim.