It’s a well-known fact that in order to get the full smartphone experience, your device has to be always connected to the internet, you need to download some apps, and you need to communicate with other devices.
But all this connectivity and the fact that we put our entire lives in such devices makes us vulnerable to people who wish to mine our personal information and sensitive data for their own gain. Hackers can use the internet to try to get your information. But if you’re not careful, you can actually give intruders in the real-world access to your information on a silver platter.
Below are some ways in which you can protect your smartphone from hackers and intruders in order to keep your personal information safe.
Update your OS and apps
Whenever your smartphone’s operating system or an app has an update, install it immediately. Software updates are not just to add and remove features or simply change how the user interface looks.
Most of the time, these updates may include important security updates that will help protect your smartphone against data breaches and unwanted invasions of privacy.
Hackers and other bad actors are always looking for ways to exploit any vulnerabilities in systems and apps. As these vulnerabilities become exposed, app developers release updates that address these issues and patch any holes in the software.
If you don’t update your OS or apps as soon as the updates are available, you make yourself vulnerable to potential cyber-attacks.
Be careful when using public Wi-Fi
Whenever you’re out in public and are not connected to a Wi-Fi network you trust, make sure you switch off your smartphone’s wireless connection. This will prevent your phone from accidentally connecting to a malicious network if it’s configured to automatically connect to the nearest Wi-Fi within range.
People with ill-intent can also connect to your device without your knowledge if your wireless connection is left turned on when not in use. If you’re connected to a malicious Wi-Fi network, you might be asked for personal information that then gets recorded for the bad actor to use later.
If you have sensitive information on your device or you use it to conduct business, it’s best to use mobile data whenever you’re out in public. Alternatively, you can install and use a VPN (virtual private network) on your smartphone.
Keep your Bluetooth turned off
Though not commonly regarded as a security threat, always keeping your Bluetooth on can pose a security risk. Provided they’re within the typical 10-meter Bluetooth range, hackers have figured out ways to access smartphones remotely via Bluetooth. Once connected, they can access your data, eavesdrop on your conversation, and much more.
Because such attacks require the hacker to be within close range, they are most common in crowded places such as coffee shops, restaurants, and bars. If you’re Bluetooth is not off, the easiest way to stay safe is to avoid any request to “pair” from unknown sources.
Another thing you can do to protect yourself is to “hide” your smartphone and make it undiscoverable by other nearby Bluetooth devices. That way, you can only connect with devices you’ve already paired with. But to pair with new devices, you will have to make your smartphone discoverable again.
Lock your smartphone
If you lose your smartphone or it gets stolen, it should not be easy for whoever finds it to access your files and personal information. You need to lock your phone to prevent that from happening. It might not be super convenient, especially when you need to get into your phone quickly, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
There are several ways in which you can restrict access to your phone. You can set up a four-digit to a six-digit passcode, an alphanumeric password, or a pattern. For added security, you can use fingerprint scanning, facial recognition, or an iris scanner.
Biometric security measures are generally the most secure because your fingerprints, face, and eyes are unique to you. If you decide to use a pattern, password, or passcode, make sure it’s not easy to copy and that you share it with nobody.
If you wish, you can take things even a step further and lock individual apps, files, and folders if your smartphone allows it. Otherwise, you can download an app such as Vault (available on Android and iOS) that can keep certain things on your smartphone protected behind a password or fingerprint.
Also, you can set up added security for your SIM card by setting up a PIN number for it that will be required every time you start up the phone. This way, you can be sure that nobody will connect to a network and use your mobile data or make calls with it.
Don’t just give out your contact details to anybody
Scammers and hackers heavily rely on emails and SMSes to conduct their fraud. They can send you an attachment via email with a malicious spy software or send you an SMS with a link to a shady phishing website that’s designed to capture and steal your personal details.
Whenever you’re online, you need to be wary about who you give your contact details to. Some people can use the details to try to send you malicious software or sell them to third-parties that will use them for ill-gain. If it’s not necessary, don’t give out your contact details.
If ever you receive emails or texts from unknown or suspicious sources, ignore them and do not open the attachments or follow the links.
It doesn’t always take a computer savvy nerd to invade your privacy. If you leave the front door to your house open, an intruder could just walk right in. Part of preventing intruders from accessing your personal data is making sure you don’t make it easier for them to do so by logging off your online accounts.
Having to always enter a password whenever you visit a website you visit regularly can be annoying. So, a lot of people keep themselves permanently logged in, so that they don’t have to constantly enter a password. As convenient as that may be, it does make it easier for someone to access your private accounts.
Should you lose your phone, trade it in, or leave it unattended and you’re always logged into your accounts, someone could pick it up and open any app they want and do whatever they want. To prevent that from happening, it’s best you log off whenever you’re done using apps with sensitive information.
Limit what you can see on a locked display
Some smartphone screens allow you to preview messages, emails, and even images from the notifications without having to unlock the phone and read the entire text. It’s convenient for people who are very busy, but it has its issues.
The problem is that even though the display doesn’t show the entire message, it can still be enough for someone to catch a glimpse of your communications. And if it’s of a sensitive nature, it might be compromised.
You just need to make sure that what is displayed on the screen is not private information or that your notifications don’t pop up on a locked screen. You can adjust the settings and choose what you wish to display and the type of content you wish to exclude.
Keep an eye on your apps
Apps are a big part of what makes smartphones the amazing little devices that they are. However, downloading a lot of random apps from god-knows-where can put your phone in danger. If you’re unsure about an app, do some research and check out the ratings and reviews before downloading it.
Before an app can be installed on your phone, it has to ask for permissions to perform certain tasks on your device. For example, to upload your photos online, Instagram will ask for permission to access your phone’s gallery. And that makes total sense given the nature of the app.
But if you download a crossword app, for example, that asks for access to your location, then you need to be concerned. Why would a game want to know where I am? Unless it’s for a special, location-based feature of the app, it doesn’t make sense for a game to want to know where you are. The game might be used to track your location.
So, when installing, updating, and using apps, don’t just be quick to grant permissions. See which permissions they’re asking for and analyze if they match the purpose of the app. If not, it might be best to not engage any further with that app.
If you notice an app behaving strangely, uninstall it immediately.
Avoid jailbreaking and rooting
Although jailbreaking a phone has the advantage of enabling the phone to function in ways that give you more freedom to do what you want with it, it does put it at risk of exposure to malware and hacking.
Jailbroken phones miss out on security updates for the operating system, which increases the risk of hacking. And if it malfunctions, chances are the manufacturer won’t do anything about it since the warranty will be void.
No matter how many safety precautions you take, sometimes life just happens and your smartphone ends up in the wrong hands. Personally, I’ve been in that situation far too many times than I wish to recall.
If that happens to you, you need to do a couple of things to make sure that you still have all your data and that nobody else can access it.
Tip 1: Back up your data
I cannot stress enough the importance of backing up your data. This could be anything from your messages to your contacts, photos, videos, documents, etc. Should anything happen to your phone, then you won’t have to worry about losing anything important if you have back up.
There are a couple of ways in which you can back up your smartphone data. One way is to connect your phone to a hard drive or a computer and transfer your files there. The problem with this method is that you need to constantly back up your files manually.
Another option is to store your data in a secure account in the cloud. This way, you can set your phone to automatically upload your files to the cloud after regular intervals. The downside? Your phone needs to be connected to the internet, and if you don’t have an unlimited data plan, uploading large files to the cloud can be costly.
Tip 2: Enable remote wiping
Should you lose your phone in one way or another, you want to make sure that nobody can access your private data. One way to do so is to enable remote wiping. What that does is allows you to erase all your data from your phone should it land in the wrong hands.
Remote wiping is obviously an extreme measure that you take when you know there’s no hope of getting your phone back. But, it’s necessary if you want to stop intruders from accessing the contents of your smartphone. And if you regularly backed up your data, you will have little to worry about if you find yourself in a situation where you need to use remote wiping.
Keeping your smartphone safe from hackers and intruders all boils down to practising caution. Be responsible and don’t make it easy for people to gain access to your phone or your private accounts and files. The more secure you make your phone, the harder it will be for unwanted eyes to see what they shouldn’t and act maliciously.
But, should your phone land in the wrong hands for whatever reason, at least you have the option to delete your private files from anywhere you are. But remember, always back up your data.