One of the greatest threats to the security and privacy of the average individual is the now ubiquitous smart phone. Devices like the iPhone and the various available Android handsets have greatly improved our lives, making things like comparison shopping for free car insurance quotes online a snap. Unfortunately, they’ve also made it a trivial matter for hackers and malicious cyber-criminals to compromise your information. Here are ten easy ways to lock down your phone and protect yourself in the real world from day to day.
1. Know Your Apps
Some critics have made comparisons between the Android operating system and the Windows platform during its less secure days. While that analogy is a bit unfair, it’s true that Android has fewer safeguards against malware than the iOS platform. That having been said, iOS has seen a few bad apps make their way into the iTunes App Store. Before you download and install an application, do some research and read the reviews that other users have submitted to make sure you’re not getting a virus sandwich.
2. Password Protection
Using a simple finger swipe to unlock a smart phone is the most common method for gaining access to a device. If your device isn’t password protected, all you have to do is lose it in a public place for all of your data to be lost to would-be thieves. At the very least, enable the password to unlock function that’s built into your phone. A simple PIN or password will go a long way in protecting you from identity theft and data loss.
3. Use The Security You Have
Just about every smart phone on the market today features advanced security features above and beyond simple password-enabled screen lockers. Things like biometric fingerprint scanners now come standard on many phones, and such measures ensure that your phone is that much harder to access if it should fall into the wrong hands. When you get a new phone, acquaint yourself with all of the stock security features that ship with it and use them regularly.
4. Permissions, Permissions, Permissions
Those familiar with Unix-like operating systems like Linux and Mac OS X will no doubt be highly aware of permissions and how they can affect the security of your mobile device. More specifically, you should look at every application you download and review what data and resources they have need to have access to for them to operate properly. Anything that requires root access to your phone should be avoided. Anytime you’re asked for personal information or a password, that’s typically a bad sign.
5. Go Easy With The GPS
Location-aware applications like Foursquare and Gowalla allow users to “check in” when they’re at specific places to facilitate sharing. While GPS-based applications can significantly enhance your life, it’s also a double-edged sword that can threaten your security. If people can see where you are, they can make assumptions about where you aren’t. Thieves can easily use social platforms like Facebook and information from GPS-based apps to plan home invasions and robberies.
6. Watch Those Financial Transactions
Probably the last thing you should do when you’re out in public is use unfamiliar computers to do your banking online. Keyloggers and malware can easily steal your credentials if you’re not careful. Second to that in terms of security threats is banking online with your smart phone on public Wi-Fi. You can reduce the danger somewhat with VPNs, although it’s best to leave your online financial transactions to your home computer where you can guarantee a safe connection.
7. Stay Up To Date
As with any operating system, the installation of iOS, Blackberry OS, or Android running on your smart phone is constantly being poked at and tested by hackers trying to exploit vulnerabilities. Modern computer security is all about patching vulnerabilities the second they’re recognized, and as such it’s essentially a game of catch up between security experts and cyber-criminals. When a security update is available for your phone’s operating system, you should install it ASAP.
8. Secure Wi-Fi
You should probably turn off the auto-connect feature for Wi-Fi access on your smart phone. Public Wi-Fi hotspots such as those found at libraries and coffee shops are a security minefield for notebook PCs and mobile devices. Everything from ARP spoofing to the use of Firesheep can allow miscreants and ne’er-do-wells to hijack your communications without you even realizing it. If you need to use public Wi-Fi, utilize a VPN or a proxy to connect to the web over an encrypted SSL connection. Using Wi-Fi through your home gateway is of course typically safe if you can’t get a 3G or 4G signal.
9. Monitor Applications Proactively
You can learn a lot about security threats to your mobile operating system by looking at resource usage. If you notice your battery losing power more quickly than it used to all of a sudden, it’s often a sign that you have a malware program installed that you don’t know about. If your phone is sluggish or unresponsive, look at CPU and memory usage for each application that’s currently running to see if anything stands out. If one program is hogging all of your phone’s resources, you may want to ditch it.
10. Mobile Security Apps
Your smart phone is essentially a small hand-held computer, with all the benefits and drawbacks that come with the territory. Much like Windows in the 90’s or now for that matter, it’s going to be a magnet for viruses. That’s why a dedicated anti-virus application is a must. Commonly used services include F-Secure Mobile Security, Lookout Security & Antivirus, and McAfee WaveSecure. As long as you have something that’s working around the clock to ward off threats, you’re far better off than a user without any security software whatsoever.
While the world of mobile devices can greatly enhance your productivity and the convenience of your communications, it can also be a nightmare in terms of security. If you follow the above tips and take a moment to shore up your defenses, you’ll greatly reduce the risk of a security breach. This information isn’t meant to scare you but rather to alert you to the potential dangers of smart phones from a safety standpoint. Just be careful when you’re out and about and you should be fine.