These days, mobile phones are one-stop payment, go-to resource, work machine, video gaming, productivity enhancing, tweeting, and Facebook-checking devices. We use them to do basically everything, from browsing the internet, checking emails, taking notes, to hanging out with friends in social networks.
However, whether it are hacked apps, insecure Wi-Fi hotspots, or your fiancé leaving the smartphone in taxi cabs (it happens to the best of us!), using your phone as a hub for the lion’s share of your personal information goes with tremendous risks, and the more data you have on your phone, the more you have to lose.
How to protect your personal information on mobile devices
Every year millions of smartphones and tablets are lost, stolen or hacked. Obviously it can be a big shock if you know that critical or personal information is leaked to others. Fortunately, there are various easy to follow precautions you can take to protect your data on mobile devices. In the following we’ll have a closer look at a few steps you can take to keep your phone, and the individual data it contains, secure.
- Use a passcode or passphrase
- Secure the data on your SIM card
- Stay up to date with software updates
- Use security applications
- Stay off of open Wi-Fi networks
- Backup your phone regularly
- Utilize remote wiping
- Record your IMEI number
- Be selective with app downloads
- Make an effort not to click on suspicious links
Use a passcode or passphrase
This may sound plainly obvious, yet as shown by a Consumer Reports study, 64% of smartphone users don’t use passwords or the screen lock to protect their phones. (For the record, using ‘1234’ or other weak passwords totally doesn’t count.) Leaving your phone unprotected usually is a bad idea. You’re fundamentally giving away your personal information to any person who swipes your phone.
When you choose a password for your mobile device, you should comply to the same standards and best practices as on other devices. For example, not using your birthdate or ‘1234’ as password should be self-explanatory. In addition you should make efforts to not reuse passwords from other devices or websites. As an alternative to a password, most mobile devices can be locked with a longer pin or an unlock pattern.
Secure the data on your SIM card
Your smartphone may need a repair at some point or you may want to lend it to a friend for a while. There are some things you should do to protect your data before handing over your device. Don’t forget to clear or remove your SIM card, SD card or any other elements that could contain personal information. Especially do this when sending your phone in for repairs, particularly if you have the feeling that you can’t trust the repair shop with your data.
Stay up to date with software updates
Regular software updates fix security issues and bugs which developers or customers have found while using their smartphones or tablets. Staying up-to-date with the most recent version of the operating system of your device (iOS, Android or else) is crucial. This protects your mobile device from being vulnerable for attacks. However, based on the reliability of your OS it may make sense to hold off for a week or two in order to determine if the new version runs smoothly, unless there are critical security issues that need to be fixed immediately.
Use security applications
Both spyware and malware can be significant security risks for your personal data. This kind of malicious software may track your location, gather personal information (like your contacts) or even affect the functionality of your smartphone. It can be difficult to avoid installing malware on your phone. It’s also worth mentioning that Android users usually are much more affected than iOS users. Luckily, there are apps which can help keeping your mobile device clean by scanning your device for malicious apps or protecting you from visiting infected websites.
Stay off of open Wi-Fi networks
Nowadays, smartphones and tablets are much the same as regular notebooks and desktop computers. They execute powerful software and you often can perform the same tasks like on regular computers. This also applies to the operating systems on mobile devices which become more and more similar to their counterparts. This also means your mobile device is vulnerable for attacks and you should avoid using insecure an open Wi-Fi networks. If you really need to use an open Wi-Fi hotspot, make sure that you encrypt the connection through VPN services or else.
Backup your phone regularly
If your smartphone ever is suffering from data loss, this could mean that most of your photos, music, applications and whatever else is lost. This of course also is the case if your phone gets lost or stolen. It’s highly recommended to regularly backup the data on your phone, especially if it contains important information. You can either save your backups on a physical drive (SD card, USB stick or HDD) or you can take advantage of cloud backups (iCloud for iOS / Google Drive for Android) if you trust the company that hosts your data.
Utilize remote wiping
Should your phone ever be lost or stolen, it comes very handy if you can remotely erase your data from the mobile device. This is possible through remote wiping which is a feature that is built into iOS and Android. For example Apple offers a feature called “Find My Phone” where you can locate your iPhone through your account, and erase the data if necessary. However, it’s worth mentioning that this feature itself may be a privacy issue. Make sure to only use it if you’re comfortable that you’re being tracked by 3rd parties.
Record your IMEI number
Every phone has a fifteen digits serial number called IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity), which can end up being helpful if your phone is ever lost or stolen. You can usually find the IMEI behind your phone’s battery or in the settings. It’s well worth recording, as it can be helpful for tracking down your mobile device.
Be selective with app downloads
This new awesome application may look great! However, be aware that there are app developers who make money with releasing malicious apps which contain malware or other threats. For the regular user it’s usually difficult to know if an app has security issues or not. With that in mind, be selective with the apps you install on your mobile device, especially if your device is running Android. Always check the source of the app and make sure to only download apps from official stores. If an app is asking for access to your data, be very careful before you accept.
Make an effort not to click on suspicious links
Be careful when you receive emails from people you don’t know and don’t click on suspicious links. Especially on smartphones people tend to click on links without checking where these links lead to. Often links in spam emails lead to websites that contain malware. You could also potentially receive phishing emails which seem to come from your bank or payment processor. Never ever click on the links in these emails and then enter your personal login information. This may lead to identity theft, financial damage or other things you definitely would want to avoid.
Conclusion: Protect your privacy and the data on mobile devices
There are many different best practices and security tips for mobile phone users today. Threats will continue to develop at a fast pace and affect all devices and operating systems. Protect and secure your phone, your data, and yourself by following these essential security tips. Stay safe online and in the real world – protect your privacy and your freedom. If you have any questions or additional security tips, please let us know in the comments.