Mobile phone security is important, but it is an issue that has been overlooked for quite some time. While there is a lot of information out there about keeping our personal computers and laptops safe from hackers and cybercriminals, many smartphone users don’t realise that it’s just as, if not even more important to secure our smartphones due to the fact that we are using them more and more these days.
If you are like many other users, then you probably use your mobile phone for a lot of private things including sending personal messages to your friends and family, online shopping, online banking, health uses, and more. The information stored on your phone could be used to do a lot of damage in your personal and maybe even your professional life if it were to fall into the wrong hands, which is why keeping your smartphone as secure as possible is crucial. From preventing hacking to keeping control over your handset and the data on it if it’s stolen, there are several things that you can do to make sure that your smartphone is protected with the best security measures.
What is Smartphone Security?
Smartphone security or mobile device security refers to the strategies and practices used to defend mobile devices against a wide range of different cyber-attack types that threaten user privacy, finances, safety, and network login credentials. Smartphone security is comprised of a wide range of policies, controls, and best practices to protect users from security threats of all types.
What are Mobile Security Threats?
As a smartphone user, you are always at risk from a range of mobile security threats. This could include network-level assaults, malicious applications and software, the exploitation of mobile OS and device vulnerabilities, smartphone thefts and more. Mobile phishing attack attempts, which use text messages and emails to trick users into clicking through to malicious URLs, have risen massively in the last couple of years. As smartphones have become more popular and more widely used, cybercriminals are increasingly focusing on targeting them, which has resulted in more cyber threats targeting these devices.
Smartphone Security Threats to Be Aware Of
No matter what kind of mobile phone you use, the brand you prefer or the OS that fits your needs best, you could be at risk of various smartphone security threats. All mobile users need to be aware of, and know how to spot, prevent, and manage a range of security threats including, but not limited to:
Smartphones are smaller and even more portable devices compared to laptops and tablets, which means that unfortunately, they can get lost more often. If your smartphone is not set up with adequate device security, such as the use of a passcode, password, Face ID, or thumbprint ID to unlock the device, then losing your phone could have catastrophic results. Along with being easier to lose, smartphones are also not difficult to steal compared to other devices, which is why it’s so important to make sure that you make it as difficult as possible for anybody to get into your device without your permission. Use strong passwords or biometrics, and make sure that your device is set up to lock itself automatically when you are not using it.
Malicious apps that you might download to your smartphone or even buy are created by hackers. These can often seem like unassuming, and even safe to use apps that you may not even think twice about downloading on your phone and using. But once they have been installed to your smartphone, malicious apps might steal data from your device or use tap and pay apps to steal your money. Keeping your mobile software up to date is the best way to protect your phone against malicious apps, along with only downloading apps from the official app store for your smartphone.
Phishing is a typical way for attackers to get an ‘in’ by tricking users into clicking on a malicious link under the pretences of something else. For example, a common one recently is to send mobile users a text message letting them know that their parcel is ready to pick up, but they need to make a payment before they can collect it. This is often a small, unsuspicious amount that can easily fool the user. However, it often ends up being much more expensive than that for those who are duped as once you have entered your payment information to make the small payment, the hackers now have your secure card details, address, and all the other information they need to start stealing from you and using your information.
For the most part, mobile devices tend to be connected to at least two networks including the cellular connection and Wi-Fi. They are also often connected to GPS and Bluetooth networks. As a smartphone user, it’s important to be aware of network threats as each point of connection is at risk of being exploited by cybercriminals to take over a device, trick the user, and steal data. One example of this is Wi-Fi spoofing, where the attacker tricks the user into connecting to a seemingly safe open Wi-Fi network, which is then used to steal data from your device.
Mobile Malware is a Growing Risk
In the last couple of years, mobile malware has risen drastically as hackers and cybercriminals continue to take advantage of increased mobile use for their own gain. Everything from malicious apps that download backdoor malware onto your device to steal your personal information, to ransomware that leaves your phone unusable until you have made a payment is a risk in the mobile space, so it’s never been more important for all mobile users to be concerned regarding the potential risks and repercussions that they face.
Along with more people now using their smartphones as the primary device for getting online, more and more mobile devices are now storing and transmitting sensitive data. Phones are the top choice of online banking device for many users today according to the 2015 Pew Research Center Report, which found that at the time, over 50% of users preferred their phone for online banking – a number that has likely to have drastically risen since then as online banking apps and features only become more advanced and accessible.
But when it comes to smartphone security, online banking is just one aspect where your safety and security could be compromised. Smartphones are filled with security risks including mobile apps that often require you to allow them access to data on your phone before you can start using them, to GPS functions that know exactly where you are at any given time. Health apps track your fitness data including steps, heartrate, sleep, and more, and your social media apps publish personal information and photos. Just by getting into your smartphone, a hacker could potentially learn all there is to know about you.
Main Smartphone Security Issues
There are several different factors that may contribute to weak smartphone security. The fact that it is much easier to lose, misplace, or steal a smartphone compared to any other device is one of the top concerns. Most people have their smartphone with them everywhere that they go, compared to other devices like laptops and tablets that are more likely to be left at home, so there is more potential for losing them or leaving them behind. And once a cybercriminal has gained access and gotten physical control of your smartphone, then getting control of the data on it is not a difficult task.
Third-party apps are another main security concern for mobile phone users. Since third-party apps are not checked first by major apps stores like Google Play and the Apple App store, you could be downloading anything to your device, and there is no guarantee that it has passed necessary safety and security tests. If you have an iPhone, then you are at a lower risk of this problem since you can only download apps from the App Store therefore you can rely on them to be more secure. On the other hand, Google’s OS, Android, is more customizable and more open to downloading third-party apps, meaning that users should take additional measures to protect their security in doing so.
Users of smartphones are also less likely to update their OS compared to computers, which is another factor that contributes to the security risk. Updating your phone’s software will require both battery power and memory, so running low on both of these could put you off. But the truth is that each time you postpone updating your OS on your smartphone, there are more opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit any security vulnerabilities. Many smartphone OS updates, particularly those in between the major updates to new versions of the OS, are security patches. In other words, the OS is staying ahead by closing gaps and vulnerabilities that cybercriminals have been known to exploit.
The Top Ways to Stay Secure With Your Smartphone
The good news is that once you know how, keeping your smartphone secure and protecting it from hackers and cybercriminals does not have to be a difficult task. There are lots of things that you can do to not only prevent hackers from gaining access to your smartphone in the first place, but to make sure that you maintain control if your phone ends up in the wrong hands. Some of the main things that any smartphone user can do to improve security and safety include:
Lock Your Phone
If your phone does not require any sort of security measure to get into it, then you are leaving your data freely available for anybody to get their hands on. No matter how hard you work to make sure that your phone is safe and prevent it from being lost or stolen, the truth is that nobody can guarantee that they are going to prevent this entirely. A burgled house, your phone accidentally falling out of your pocket, or losing your bag with your phone inside it can happen to anybody quite easily. Because of this, having a lock on your phone is an imperative part of smartphone security. Make sure that it’s difficult for anybody but yourself to get into your smartphone by using a strong password, passcode, or a biometric security measure like Face ID or Touch ID.
Along with making sure that you use a security measure to lock your phone, it’s a good idea to ensure that this is something that happens automatically. No matter how secure your phone is when it is locked, it’s not going to be much use to you if your phone stays unlocked unless you lock it manually. Most modern smartphones will offer an automatic locking feature that you can use to keep your phone more secure. If you have not been using the smartphone for a certain period of time, it will automatically lock giving you peace of mind that nobody can access it if it ends up out of your hands.
Updating your phone’s OS on a regular basis is one of the best things that you can do when it comes to keeping it secure, particularly when it comes to protecting your device from hackers and cybercriminals who may try and gain back-door entry. Since hackers are always working to get around security measures that are brought in by smartphone manufacturers and OS developers to prevent them getting in, many OS updates that you might get in between the large, major updates are typically to improve security, along with bug fixes and other minor improvements. Setting your smartphone to update the OS automatically or making sure that you do the update as soon as you get the notification will help to keep your data and handset as secure as possible.
Find My Device
Using Find My Device on iPhone or similar services on Android phones can make a huge difference if your smartphone ends up in the wrong hands. Not only are these services ideal if you have lost your phone somewhere and are struggling to find it, but they also allow you to retain control over your handset remotely if it is lost or stolen. Using Find My Device, you can not only get the last known location of your phone, but also set additional security to prevent any thieves from getting access to your data, back your phone up to the cloud remotely, and even wipe the device so that if it does end up in the wrong hands, your data isn’t going to be with it. Find My Device also gives you the option to set a message on the lock screen of your phone to inform anybody who has it that the phone has been lost or stolen. You can include your contact information so that if you do lose your phone, it can be more easily returned to you.
Download Approved Apps
Apps are the main way that we use our phones, and many people have hundreds of them downloaded to their handset at any one time. However, the apps that you download might be risky if you are not downloading them from a trusted source. Only downloading apps from the App Store on iPhone or the Google Play Store if you have an Android phone is key to your security. Any third-party apps that you do download are best scanned with an anti-virus software or app program beforehand to check that they are authentic and safe. Ultimately, however, there is no need to download any third-party apps since everything that you need is typically available through official app stores. It’s best to stick to these as much as possible, to ensure you stay safe.
Watch Out for Phishing
Phishing is a problem that is becoming more and more common these days, with scammers trying lots of different ways to dupe phone users into clicking on a link or giving their information away. With most of us now using email on our smartphones more often, scammers might try to get you to give your information away unknowingly using both email and SMS. If you receive any emails or text messages that you weren’t expecting, with a link for you to click on, it’s best to be wary. If you weren’t expecting the message, then it’s best to double check with the company or individual that it appears to be from, using another means such as making a call.
Use Antivirus Apps
Antivirus might be something that you only think of when it comes to securing your PC or laptop, but the truth is that any computer device will benefit from it, including your smartphone. Antivirus apps are now becoming more and more popular for smartphones, with lots of options to choose from where you can scan apps before you download them, scan websites for hazards, and much more. There are lots of free apps to choose from or you can find paid services that have a wider offering of features. Antivirus apps are a particularly important choice for Android smartphones where the security may not be as tight compared to iPhones since third-party apps are permitted and easier to download.
Jailbreaking is a process that allows you to do more with your phone, by bypassing the processes that are intended by the manufacturer of the phone, including the security measures. But while jailbreaking may ultimately make it so that you are able to do more with your device overall, this comes at a high cost of security being significantly weakened, ultimately putting you at a bigger risk of hackers getting access to your device and getting their hands on your data.
Back Up Data
Regular backups are just as important for your phone as they are for your desktop or laptop PC. It’s a good idea to set up a cloud backup service that will automatically back up your data throughout the day, making sure that everything you store on your phone is also stored online ready for you to access from another device if needed. The good news is that automatic backups are easy to set up on most modern smartphones, including iCloud backup on iPhone that can be turned on to work behind the scenes without any additional input needed from you. This way, all you need to do is sign into your iCloud account on a different device to access all your data or redownload it to a new device. When your data is backed up, this will prevent you from being burned by ransomware attacks and similar.
Encrypt Your Data
If it is not already the default setting for your phone, then it is worth thinking about encrypting your data. This can be a very useful option for making sure that any sensitive data on your phone is well protected, including personal information and financial data from banking and payment apps.
Be Careful on Public Wi-Fi
Using public Wi-Fi when you are out and about can make all the difference and save your cellular data. However, it’s important to be vigilant when using publicly available Wi-Fi networks as they are often much less secure compared to the Wi-Fi network that you can use at your home or place of work, for example. These networks are often notoriously easy for hackers to intercept, and if you’re using them to access sensitive or personal information such as online banking, then you could be putting yourself at a bigger level of risk than you realize. If you need to use public Wi-Fi, the best way to use it is with a VPN to encrypt your data and make it harder for any hackers to get their hands on it.
While there’s a lot of information about securing your computer out there, many mobile users don’t realize that their smartphone is just as susceptible to hacking and other security risks. Keep these strategies in place to keep your phone and all the data on it as safe and secure as possible.