9 Steps to securing your smartphone

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Do you secure your phone and protect it from thieves? Did you know that every day in the UK, more than 300 mobile phones are stolen? Chances are that if you have a smartphone, you have a security problem, and you probably weren’t aware of just how many mobile phones are stolen every day in the UK.

While there are some obvious things you can do to protect your phone from being stolen, this article is going to focus on the not so obvious things, that most people overlook.

Always update your smartphone OS

Whatever you’re doing, and however you might have modded your Android OS, Apple iOS, or Windows OS, chances are you don’t know as much about how that OS works as the developers do. That means you aren’t going to be aware of potential security loopholes or problems that might not have been publicly advertised as fixed.

In fact, most of the time security loopholes are just quietly patched. No one ever even hears about it outside of the security community.

Don’t go cheap on your lock screen

Most of us use a four digit PIN to lock our phones. For phone thieves, bypassing something like that is a walk in the park. Watching someone input their PIN in a pub takes seconds, and if you’re just using four numbers, it’s extremely easy.

Throw in a longer PIN, and you just made the job of any would be phone thief that much more difficult to accomplish. Even better is to use a pattern lock, and put your phone in your lap or in another difficult to view position when unlocking it. However, stay away from facial recognition locks.

At present they are not very secure, and can even lock you out of your own phone. Also don’t forget to update your password at least occasionally.

Use an antivirus program

Apple users aren’t going to need to worry about this as much, as iOS operating system and the iOS App Store are tightly controlled, but Android users are often on their own.

Bad apps regularly make it pretty far into the Google Play Store before they are caught. By then the damage has been done, and for some users it was undoubtedly a painful experience. AVG, Lookout, and McAfee are all available on the Google Play store and the iOS App Store.

You can get some good options on the Windows Phone Store too, but on any of these stores, only use top rated apps. There have been numerous occasions where fake AV apps have been accepted and released on the Google Play store and the Windows Phone Store.

Pay attention to your browser

Just like the fake antivirus apps that were released onto the Google Play store and the Windows Phone store, there have also been fake browsers released. Users who install these fake browsers have the same problem fake antivirus users do.

The apps install tracking and key logging programs, and then upload data to a server. You can end up having your account details, bank information, and even personal safety compromised. In most cases it’s best to use the mobile browser that comes with your phone, unless you have a strong reason for switching, and know what you are doing.

Don’t use apps from sources you don’t know

This means pretty much anything that doesn’t have a lot of reviews, or isn’t from the manufacturer store or site. In particular, pay attention to free apps that have been hacked. Many times a pirated version of a game like Angry Birds will include a tracking program that can cripple your system and take your data.

It’s not just gamers that have to worry though. Business users and tourists also have to watch out. Some governments, particularly in less developed nations, will release free tour or guide programs, which will include apps that send user data.

If you’re doing something sensitive, using bank information, or anything even remotely dodgy, you can find yourself inexplicably getting reeled in by local officials who might not always be understanding of your western ways. Worse, these apps can follow you home, and do damage months later.

Don’t root or jailbreak

While having control of your device is great, not everyone living in the secret part of the internet is as friendly as you might think.

Some of them are worse than others, but considering the level of surveillance mobile developers, operators, and OS developers already engage in, do you really need that added risk? Plus, when you root or jailbreak, you’re putting your phone at risk by making it easier for third party apps to access otherwise protected code. That can fast track access to your details.

Obviously if you know what you’re doing, then you will have already taken measures to protect yourself, but how many people jailbreaking and rooting can honestly claim that level of knowledge?

Don’t open attachments from people you don’t know

If you weren’t expecting someone to send you an attachment, or it’s from someone you don’t know, then don’t open it. There are several ways to compromise the security of a mobile phone or tablet through a message or attachment.

While this sort of thing isn’t widespread, it is out there. Just like opening an unknown or mass forwarded attachment on your computer can let in a virus, so can opening it on your mobile. Be smart, and just ignore anything you didn’t know about, or weren’t expecting to see on your phone.

Be careful when using Wi-Fi

Not many people are aware of this, but there are a number of apps out there that can capture data used over a Wi-Fi connection. Sometimes the owner of the Wi-Fi system might not even be aware that a third party has installed such a program.

When that happens, any data you send over the Wi-Fi connection can be snooped. That includes passwords, login details, and anything else you aren’t sending over a secure connection. Make sure you’re always using an https connection to send data, and you’ll protect yourself.

Just keep in mind that anything you send that isn’t encrypted over an https connection is fair game on most networks (and even for people just scanning the air). While you might think hopping on your neighbor’s open Wi-Fi connection is a great way to save a buck, you’ll think differently when he or she starts receiving gifts from Amazon that you didn’t know you were sending.

Use location settings to your advantage

Location settings can let you recover, or at least wipe, a stolen or missing device. If you’re a Google fan, you can just visit the Google Play store and access your Android Device Manager. That will let you erase, locate, lock, or ring your device remotely.

Any iOS users can access the ‘Find my iPhone’ app from the web as well by logging into their iCloud account. The same functions are available, and if you are quick, you can sometimes catch a phone thief. For Windows Phone OS, you can use the Windows Phone store, and BlackBerry users can use BlackBerry Protect.

For any of these things to work though, you need to have them installed and enabled. Then,when you notice your phone is missing, grab a friend’s phone, log in, and ring or track your phone (or notify security or the police).

End Note

Remember, most of the time your smartphone is more important than your wallet or your purse, because you’ve usually got more information on it, and less awareness of the device. It’s a lot more difficult to take someone’s bag or wallet than it is to create a distraction and swipe their phone. Protect yourself, and you’ll be glad for having done so.