How to Keep Your Cell Phone and Tablet Safe

by Tim Parker

What's on your smart phone or tablet that you don't want others to see? These 8 steps can protect your mobile devices from hackers and thieves.

securing cell phones and tablets
Image source: Photospin.com

You probably heard about the Heartbleed bug that made widespread news when it was revealed in April. The bug left more than two-thirds of the Internet vulnerable to attack according to some estimates, but it also reignited the calls for better cyber security across all devices.

Before that, there was the Target security breach that affected more than 70 million people during the 2013 holiday season.

As technology becomes increasingly feature-rich, it becomes more vulnerable to attack. Complicated computer code along with people that make a career trying to figure out how to break it make for an insecure environment. The lesson is simple: You have to take an active role in keeping your data safe. You can’t control all of it but, with some relatively easy and common sense actions, you can fend off many of the attacks that may come your way.

Let’s focus on your mobile devices. While most threats come from viruses attacking computer systems, your mobile devices are vulnerable to many of the same threats. Some have nothing to do with a virus or hacker. Some are plain old-fashioned theft.

1. Is your device up to date?

If you’re in the habit of only updating your phone or tablet when a cool new feature comes out, you’re making yourself vulnerable. Check for updates regularly and don’t wait for your device to alert you. As soon as you find an update, install it. Many contain security updates that protect your device from a cyber attack.

2. How’s Your Password?

You’ve heard this so many times before but still, the most common password is “password.” (Yes, seriously!) Change your passwords to something that is harder to crack. Numbers, letters, and symbols—and don’t use the same password for everything.

3. Don’t Download Every Cool App

If you heard about a cool new app that Facebook just released, you can probably download it without worry of any problems. However, if you happen to find an app that you’ve never heard of, read the comments, search for it online, and be otherwise skeptical until you find enough information to indicate that its legit. Android apps are slightly more problematic because they don’t have developer guidelines as strict as Apple’s App Store.

Related: How to Recognize a Fake Virus Warning

4. Stay off of unencrypted Wi-Fi.

You go to the mall and find a gloriously strong connection to an open Wi-Fi network. It doesn’t want your password, your credit card, or a blood sample. It’s just there and all you have to do is say yes. But if you say yes, there’s a chance that a cyber thief might be waiting for you.

This played out at the 2014 Winter Olympics where people reported being hacked within minutes of connecting to the Wi-Fi in Sochi.

If it doesn’t ask for a password, stay away. Even then, it’s not guaranteed to be perfectly secured. Don’t use public Wi-Fi unless you have to.

5. If you’re not using it, turn it off.

Not using Bluetooth? Turn it off. Not using Wi-Fi? Turn it off. Not using your phone? Turn it off. You’re probably not going to spend a lot of time with your phone turned off but if you’re not able to take calls for a period of time, turn it off. Not only does it make it more secure, you’ll save battery power.

6. Use a passcode on your device

The threats don’t just come from cybercriminals. Mobile devices are designed to be portable and that makes them vulnerable to theft. The easiest way to protect your phone is to enable a passcode.

If that short code that resembles a PIN number at an ATM machine doesn’t seem secure, think again. In 2013, government agencies confirmed that they are unable to bypass the passcode. Apple created a waiting list for agencies requesting its assistance. If some of the best cyber security minds in the world can’t crack an iPhone, you can feel good about the security of that little code.

7. Use a grab-prevention app.

Place a small fob on your keychain and install the app. Any time your phone gets outside of a certain distance from your keychain, an alarm sounds, the phone locks, and you can track it through GPS. Check out the Kensington Proximo starting at $24.99. It even has additional features like allowing you to find your keys as well.

8. Know what to do if it’s lost

So your device was stolen - or that’s what you’re telling people to avoid the embarrassment of saying that you forgot it at a restaurant. Know what to do if it’s lost. For iOS devices, head to icloud.com and lock it and search for it. Google has an Android device manager website and Windows has something similar.

Related: Data Security for Small Businesses

Finally

Sadly, sometimes attacks are out of our control. We don’t write the software, but other actions are ours to take. Secure your devices, use strong passwords, keep its software updated, and watch where you use Wi-Fi. That’s a great start to staying secure.

© 2014 Attard Communications, Inc., DBA Business Know-How®.  May not be reproduced, reprinted or redistributed without written permission.

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