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Smartphone security - how to protect your information online

You know all about the dangers of hacking and viruses when it comes to computers - but how safe is your smartphone?

Last updated: 2nd Jul 2020 at 3:06pm

Keeping your data, privacy and personal details safe is more important than ever, so we’ve compiled a list of tips that’ll help you make huge improvements to your mobile security.

  1. Use a Strong PIN
  2. Know your Apps
  3. Use Secure Wi-Fi Connections
  4. Don’t Click on Suspicious Links or Attachments


1. Use a Strong PIN

The first step to keeping your mobile phone safe is locking it with a secure PIN or password. That way, if it’s lost or stolen, no one can access your personal data, bank details, photos, and other important information stored on your phone.

A PIN of 6 digits or more will always be more secure than a PIN of 4 digits or, worse, a pattern like many Android phones offer.

Even better would be a custom password, which uses letters, numbers, and special characters. Generally, the more complicated the password, the better - as long as you can still remember it. Password managers like LastPass can create long, unique passwords for you and store them all in one place. 

Biometric security features, like fingerprint scanners, iris scanners, and facial recognition, are another easy way to lock your smartphone, and they tend to be fairly secure. However, they are not foolproof and could potentially be cracked. Use them for their quick efficiency, but make sure you have a secure PIN as well to add an extra layer of security.

Depending on what operating system (android or ios) and device you have, changing your security settings will be different.

  • For IOS devices: Tap Settings > [your name] > Password & Security > Change Password.
  • For Android devices: Open your device's Settings app on your Google Account > at the top tap Security > Under "Signing in to Google," tap Password


2. Know your Apps

This may sound obvious, but it’s worth repeating: only download well-known apps from trusted sources like the Google Play Store if you’re an Android user, and the Apple Store if you own an iPhone. Avoid downloading apps directly from links or search engine results, and always go to your phone’s app store instead.

However, this doesn’t mean that every app on these platforms will be 100% safe, as malicious apps can sometimes sneak their way in. The Apple App Store tends to be the more secure of the two, so be especially mindful if you’re downloading apps on an Android - check the reviews if you are unsure.

Finally, make sure you keep an eye on your app permissions. Many apps request access to your location, camera, microphone, contacts, calendar, and more. While it’s unlikely that these will be used maliciously, you may want to limit the amount of personal and/or usage data each app is collecting.

For a real world example of this, Facebook had been allowing the elections consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica to harvest user data without their knowledge and used this data to influence voters. The data was harvested in 2014 through an app called “thisisyourdigitallife”, which included permissions to access Facebook profiles and friend’s lists – so remember to keep an eye on which apps have access to your information!


3. Use Secure Wi-Fi Connections

While open wireless networks are endlessly useful, they also come with risks. When you’re connected to an open Wi-Fi network (for example in a coffee shop or on a train), anyone with the necessary skills and software could gain access to your phone and see everything you’re doing online.

So, how can you stay safe? Simply avoid open Wi-Fi networks whenever possible, and stick to your data! However, if the coffee shop you’re in has a password-protected Wi-Fi network and you’re given the password, you should be able to connect to it without running the same risks.


4. Don’t Click on Suspicious Links or Attachments

Are smartphones vulnerable to viruses? Short answer: yes. Just like desktop computers, and laptops, smartphones and tablets can fall prey to malware. Malware, or malicious software, is what is commonly known as a virus, but it can come in many different forms.

To avoid accidentally downloading malware, stay away from suspicious websites (a good way to know if a website is secure is the green https:// in the url bar) and don’t open email attachments or click on links if you’re not sure the sender is a trusted person or company.

You may want to download an antivirus app onto your phone, but it’s not always necessary. Follow best practices and be aware of the risks, and you should be safe from viruses! If you do decide you’d like the extra protection an antivirus app offers, choose a reputable provider: Avast, Bitdefender, AVL and McAfee are all great options.


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