Hackers can threaten your smartphone in lots of ways. So if you want or need to lock it down completely, ironclad protection gets a little complicated. Fortunately, you can take some quick and easy steps to improve your smartphone security and protect it from mobile security threats. They don’t eliminate all risk, but they’re a solid baseline for any smartphone owner.
Your smartphone is a computer in your pocket, and it often contains just as much private data. All of your emails, location history, web history and app usage are likely accessible through the device on your pocket. This makes it well worth protecting, but the threats you should worry about extend beyond.
Smartphone Security tips
1. Set a Strong PIN
The first step in any mobile defense plan is to lock your smartphone. So that no one can get into it if it’s lost, stolen, or left alone for a few minutes. While it’s convenient to leave your device unlocked, the security risks far outweigh the benefit. So you need to create a strong password for improving your smartphone security. The easiest solution for most people, if your smartphone offers it, is to use biometrics like a fingerprint or face scanner to lock your device. That way it only takes a touch or a glance to get back in.
Keep in mind that those sensors can be fooled, albeit with a lot of effort. And during an encounter with law enforcement, agents can compel you to open your phone if you rely on those biometric mechanisms. Pro tip: In iOS 11, you can squeeze the side button and either volume button simultaneously to deactivate Touch ID and Face ID in a pinch. If that’s at all a concern for you, stick with a trusty passcode. Strings of six digits or more are nearly impossible for an attacker to brute force without getting locked out of the device. So use a six-digit code at minimum, or even better, a custom alphanumeric code (not your pet’s name). Unleash the full power of your keyboard! And don’t bother with unlock patterns. they’re generally not as secure as a six-character PIN.
In order to manage your lock screen security settings in iOS, you should go to Settings >> Touch ID & Passcode. On an iPhone X, it’ll be Face ID & Passcode. On Android, the wording will vary a little depending on your device, but navigate to Settings, then Lock screen and security to set your PIN.
2. Use Two-Factor Authentication
While you’re considering your smartphone security, let’s lock down your Google services as well. The best way of doing this is with Google’s own two-factor authentication.
Here’s how to do it. Login-in to your Google account and head to the two-step verification settings page. Once there, choose “Using 2-step verification” from the menu. From there, follow the prompts. You’ll be asked for your phone number. You can get verification codes by voice or SMS on your phone. I find texting easier.
In seconds, you’ll get a call with your verification number. You then enter this code into your web browser’s data entry box Your device will then ask you if you want it to remember the computer you’re using. If you answer, “yes” that programs will be authorized for use for 30-days. Finally, you turn on 2-step verification and you’re done.
You can also make this even simpler by using Google Prompt. With this you can authorize Google apps by simply entering “yes” when prompted on your phone.
3. Avoid Third Party App Stores
This is an easy one to improve your smartphone security. It just takes a little bit of awareness. If you’re an Android user, only download apps from the Google Play Store. Even this doesn’t completely eliminate your risk of accidentally downloading a malicious app, but it will reduce it significantly. Your iPhone, on the other hand, can’t download apps from outside of Apple’s App Store unless you jailbreak it. And if you jailbreak your phone, you hopefully already know the risks of downloading software from sketchy sources. While malware-ridden apps occasionally sneak by Apple’s stringent development rules, the App Store is generally a very safe place.
To further reduce your risk on both Google Play and the App Store, stick to mainstream apps with consistently high ratings and known developers. And always navigate directly to the operating system’s official storefront too, instead of following links or search engine results that could lead you to imposter pages.
4. Use a Virtual Private Network
If you’re on the road, whether it’s your local coffee shop or the remote office in Singapore, you’re going to want to use free Wi-Fi. We all do. We all take big chances when we do since they tend of be as secure as a net built out of thread. To make yourself safer you’ll want to use a mobile Virtual Private Network (VPN).
In my experience, the best of these are: F-Secure Freedome VPN, KeepSolid VPN Unlimited, NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and TorGuard. What you don’t want to do, no matter how tempted you may be, is to use a free VPN service. None of them work worth a darn.
5. Stay Patched
You’ve probably heard this before, but you need to actually do it. So we’re going to say it again: Download software updates regularly. Update your apps, update your operating system, and even go for it with those seemingly random “update your carrier settings” notifications. Why not! This is helpful for your smartphone security.
6. Use Anti-Virus Software
While Google Play Protect does a good job of protecting your phone, when it comes to malware protection I believe is using a belt and suspenders. For my anti-virus (A/V) suspenders, I use Germany’s AV-TEST, an independent malware detection lab, results as my guide.
So, the best freeware A/V program today is Avast Mobile Security & Antivirus. It’s other security features, like its phone tracker, doesn’t work that well, but it’s good at finding and deleting malware. The best freemium A/V software is Norton Mobile Security. All its components work well and if you elect to go for the full package, it’s only $25 for 10 devices.
7. Turn off Connections When You Don’t Need Them
If you’re not using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, turn them off for your smartphone security. Besides saving some battery life, network connections can be used to attack you. The BlueBorne Bluetooth hackers are still alive, well, and ready to wreck your day. Don’t give it a chance.
True, Android was patched to stop this attack in its September 2017 release. Google’s device family got the patch and Samsung deployed it. Has your vendor protected your device yet? Odds are they haven’t.
8. If You Don’t Use an App, Uninstall It
Every application comes with its own security problems. Most Android software vendors do a good job of updating their programs. Most of them. If you’re not using an application, get rid of it. The fewer program doors you have into your smartphone, the fewer chances an attacker has to invade it.
If you follow up with all these suggestions, you can easily improve your smartphone security. But keep in mind that it won’t be perfectly safe. Nothing is in this world. But, you’ll be much more secure than you are now, and that’s not a small thing.
9. Password management
When it comes to passwords, you have choices: 1) use the same password for everything, which is really dumb. 2) Write down your passwords on paper, which isn’t as bad an idea as it sounds so long as you don’t put them on a sticky note on your PC screen; 3) Memorize all your passwords, not terribly practical. Or, 4) use a password management program.
Now Google comes with one built-in (Google password manager). But if you don’t want to put all your security eggs in one cloud basket, you can use other mobile password management programs. The best of the bunch are: LastPass, 1Password, and Dashlane.
10. Only Buy Smartphones from Vendors Who Release Android Patches Quickly
I recently got a Google Pixel 2. There were many reasons for this, but number one with a bullet was that Google makes sure its smartphones, such as the Pixel, the Pixel 2, Nexus 5X, and 6P get the freshest updates. This means they get the newest security patches as they’re released.
As for other major vendors, Android Authority, the leading Android publication, found, the best vendors for keeping their phones up to date were, in order, from best to worse: LG, Motorola, HTC, Sony, Xiaomi, OnePlus, and Samsung.
A Lost Phone Can Be Worse Than A Virus
Worrying about malware can keep your attention locked on just one problem, however. There’s another issue that’s just a disconcerting, and far more likely. The loss of your phone, either accidentally or because it was stolen.
A phone in a stranger’s hands opens you to all the security issues we’ve already touched on. Everything stored on your phone can be accessed, from your saved credit cards to your email inbox, no virus required, and anti-virus can’t do a thing to protect your smartphone security.
What can protect your smartphone security is preemptive action. Place a lock on your phone. Backup your data. And make sure you’re aware of the tools available for remotely wiping your phone if it goes missing. Waiting until after your phone is already missing may be too late. So don’t hesitate to familiarize yourself with your smartphone’s security. The process only takes a few minutes.
Where there’s data, there’s risk. Keeping your phone secure is now a complex, multistage process. That’s unfortunate, but also inevitable given their expanding capabilities. Where there’s data, there will be someone who wants to obtain it, often through illegitimate means.
The good news is that all smartphone manufacturers have become wise to the problem in short order. So most modern devices offer backup, remote wipe and lock features by default. You’ll also find that there’s a wide variety of effective antivirus solutions, some of which are absolutely free. While certainly worth a bit of worry, smartphones are still easier, and less expensive, to protect than a PC.