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How to Make Sure Your Phone Stays Private and Secure

When we manage our whole lives via our devices, it’s important to make sure they stay secure. Here’s how.
by Quinton O’Reilly | Jun 26 2018

Allow me to state the obvious: our phones are more than just phones. They’re our diaries, our wallets, our news sources, our cameras, our secretaries, our memories. For this reason, it’s important to take the necessary precautions to ensure your data is safe.

Your smartphone comes equipped with a number of features to help with this and while there’s no such thing as 100% security, you can definitely improve your protection so that you aren’t caught out.

Always have a lock screen

Getting the obvious step out of the way, your phone should have a lock screen activated no matter what. Not having one is just inviting someone to steal your phone and access everything on it from the moment they lay hands on it.

At the least, you should be using a 6-digit PIN, but more devices now have alternative methods of unlocking like patterns and passwords which can help.

If you use a fingerprint scanner or similar, then you should go for a password instead of a PIN. The reason is that you’ll only need the password every now and again, and it will be much harder for someone to guess that than a 4- or 6-digit PIN.

Keep your OS and apps updated

Smartphone updates bring more than just new features, but a variety of security updates, too. Software vulnerabilities are regularly discovered and the longer you leave updating an OS or app, the more you put yourself at risk.

For the most part, your phone will notify you of updates but it’s good to check your settings every now and again to make sure.

Use a password manager

Passwords are tough to remember, especially since there are so many different services out there. The way around it is to use a password manager like Lastpass and 1Password. These services are often quite cheap and take much of the hassle out of remembering numerous passwords.

The best part is you only have to remember one main password so you can make the remaining passwords as complex as you want (and you should).

Use two-step authentication

For your accounts, this should be the bare minimum protection you should apply. What two-step authentication does is add an extra layer of security to your accounts, requiring a randomized code on top of your usual username and password.

It’s recommended you use official apps like Authy (iOS and Android) and Google Authenticator (iOS and Android) instead of SMS as they’re vulnerable to hijacking.

Activate find my phone

There are two reasons for this. The first is if you lose it, you’ll be able to find it again but the second and more important reason is you can wipe it remotely.

While the chances of getting a phone back when stolen are remote, you can at least wipe it clean and prevent the thief from finding anything on it.

On iOS, you can activate it by going into Settings > iCloud.
On Android, go into your Google Account and under Sign-in and Security, you’ll find the option.

Stick to the official app store

Another obvious one but worth mentioning again, only download apps from official sources like the App Store or Google Play. While apps found there are usually safe, you should check to see what developers they come from and their reviews so you know they can be trusted.

The only way iPhone users can download unofficial apps is if you jailbreak it, and if you’ve done that, chances are you’re aware of the risks involved. If you’re using Android, disable the ‘unknown sources’ option found in your security settings.

Check your app permissions

Some apps can be incredibly useful, but you might not be aware of exactly what permissions you’ve given them. Since permissions can be vague at best, you should still check to see what access they have.

On iOS and Android, both have a dedicated apps section in settings, allowing you to get an overview of what access they have. Keep the ones that make sense activated – access to contacts makes sense if it’s a messaging app, but less so if it’s a game.

On Android, go to Settings and the Apps section which shows you a list of everything you’ve installed.

On iOS, go to Settings and either go to Privacy where you can see permissions grouped by type or scroll down the Settings screen and pick the app of interest.

Avoid public WiFi spots

Popping into a Starbucks or similar place to avail of the free WiFi can seem like a good idea, but the reality is you leave yourself open to risk from hackers. The reasons why are the same ones as to why you would connect to public WiFi: easy access.

Easy access means a hacker can position themselves between you and the connection so instead of transmitting data from your device to the WiFi connection, it’s going through the hacker, meaning all the data you transmit goes through them. That’s not great if you’re checking your bank account details or sending personal information somewhere.

The best course of action is to avoid them entirely or turn WiFi off when you don’t need it. If you really have to log into a public WiFi spot, consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) as it will encrypt your data.

All right. Stay safe out there.

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