With all of the recent high-profile hacks on companies like Sony, Home Depot, JP Morgan, Anthem and many more, you’d be forgiven for being a little worried about your digital privacy and security.
Since many of us now use a smartphone as our go-to device, at any given time, there is a lot of personal data stored on it, ripe for the taking. Just stop for a moment and consider how much information is actually stored on your phone. There’s likely bank account info and credit card numbers, account passwords and browsing activity, location data, texts, emails — we could keep going. If that information falls into the wrong hands, you could end up having quite the bad day — or life. Identify theft can haunt you for years, possibly even decades.
So, how can you protect the personal information and data stored on your mobile device?
3 Ways to Protect the Personal Information Stored on Your Mobile Device
It’s important to note, that no matter what you do, it’s always possible for someone to collect your personal data from an electronic device. The age old saying, where there’s a will there’s a way, definitely holds true when it comes to hacking. There are limitations, of course, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about.
The best you can do is slow down any unscrupulous individuals by beefing up your security as much as you possibly can. Not only will this deter or completely stop the amateurs, but it should keep your data safe in the event you misplace your device.
1. Enable the Lock Feature
No matter what type of smartphone you have — whether it’s Android, iPhone or Windows Phone — make sure you enable the lock feature. Not only that, ensure that the device automatically locks after a short period of inactivity. The ideal timeout period is between three to five minutes, but in some cases, that may be too long.
If you use a passcode or password lock, don’t use any personal information like your birthdate, address or similar tells. Choose something you’ll remember, but ensure that no one else will be able to guess it — not even people that know you. Assume that most of your personal information is publically available — because a lot of it is — and avoid using it.
Don’t use the same password across multiple accounts and devices, either. All it takes is one of them to become compromised, and then all of your accounts could end up that way. Hackers love to prey on people who take shortcuts like this because it’s so easy.
Furthermore, try to avoid sharing your phone with anyone you don’t know. Really, no one should be using your phone because all it takes is a few moments to gather information, install malware, or ping another compromised device. Sure, some technology may seem out of reach, but you should be ready for anything.
There are small devices called skimmers being placed over ATMs which act as a buffer between a customer’s card and the reader. This allows hackers to wirelessly collect information like PIN, bank account numbers and more. It sure sounds crazy, but if something like that is in the wild, there’s no telling what you may eventually encounter. Imagine something like this adapted for use with smartphones.
2. Encrypt Your Data and Storage
Similar to files and digital storage on a computer, you can encrypt your smartphone data, as well. To break it down in layman’s terms, this locks down your data with a unique software key and without it, the information is useless.
There are some downsides to encrypting your mobile data, though. On Android, if you decide to enable encryption, then it may take slightly longer to log in to your device. This is because after you enter your passcode or lock pattern, the device will need to decrypt the data before it can access it. In addition, once you encrypt your data, that’s it. You can never reverse the process unless you factory reset your phone and erase everything.
How do you enable encryption?
On an iPhone or iPad, all you need to do is setup a passcode on your device to lock it. Once that’s done, the device will automatically encrypt your data. iMessages, email and attachments and select app data will be encrypted by the mobile operating system.
With Android, you must have a lock passcode set up in order to encrypt the data. Plug your phone into the charger — it takes an hour or so to encrypt everything — and follow these steps:
Go to “Settings > Security > Encrypt Phone”
You’ll need to choose a password of six characters or more, with at least one of them being a number. This will also become your screen unlock passcode. Once that’s done, all you have to do is wait for the phone to complete the encryption process.
Android also allows you encrypt data stored on your external SD card too. We recommend doing this if you have sensitive data stored there.
Unfortunately, Windows Phone users cannot select encryption for their devices. Windows Phone devices can take advantage of BitLocker technology to encrypt data, but it must be enabled by your exchange server or mobile device administrator.
You can also use special bags made to protect mobile devices to shield your phone from remote access. It’s not quite as effective as encrypting your data, but if you’re not using the phone, it’s a great way to prevent any tracking or skimming devices from recognizing it. Of course, you’ll need to remove it from the bag when you want to send messages, browse the web or interact with the device, but that’s where the data encryption comes in handy.
3. Keep Your Device Updated to the Latest Firmware
Yes, software updates can be a real hassle to install, but they exist for a reason.
Most of the time when you download and install an update, you’re getting a lot more than just UI changes and new features. Smartphone software updates also include fixes for critical vulnerabilities and security patches, just like computers.
As soon as you can, update your software to the latest version. This rule also applies to any mobile applications you have installed. It’s entirely possible for someone to gain access to personal information or data through an out of date mobile app, too.
Alternate Security Tips
While the 3 tips discussed above may be the most important, they’re not the only ones you should keep in mind when it comes to protecting the data stored on your mobile device. Here are some others:
- Don’t connect to unsecured wireless (Wi-Fi) networks.
- Delete texts, emails and photos that contain personal data.
- Disable your location when you don’t need it for GPS or photo geotagging.
- Don’t click on strange attachments, open unknown files or install applications from sources you do not trust.
- Backup any personal information you need on a regular basis.
- Refrain from leaving your mobile device unsupervised for lengthy periods of time.
- Always check app permissions and ensure the applications you install don’t have access to information they don’t need. For instance, there’s no reason a flashlight app would need to access your email and text messages.
So long as you remain mindful of these tips, you should be all right. Just be cautious about what you’re doing on your phone. If you frequently install applications or open attachments from unknown sources, you might want to reevaluate your personal security.
Photo credit: COG LOG LAB