How Do I Protect the Information on My Mobile Phone?

Mobile phones have been publicly available for more than twenty years now, and we’ve come to depend on them so heavily that it's hard to remember what we did before we had them. If you have a smartphone, you now carry a fully functional computer in your pocket or purse. That’s a tremendous amount of information quite literally at your fingertips, and the information it holds is something you don't want to have fall into the wrong hands.

How Can I Keep My Phone’s Information Secure?

1. Smartphones need to be updated when security fixes are developed.

Though basic phones generally don’t get updated, smartphones are essentially computers and they may need updates. While some updates simply provide you with cooler functionality and upgraded features, others fix critical security vulnerabilities that you do not want to be exposed to. Your service provider should notify you whenever an update is available; ignore these at your own peril.

2. Security software is a must for smartphone users.

The mobile malware market is booming and because few users protect these devices they are particularly attractive to hackers and cybercriminals. The fixes phone manufacturers make to their operating systems do not protect you from other types of malware attacks. The only protection against these is to use mobile security software and keep it up to date. Many of these programs can also locate a missing or stolen phone, back up your data, and even remotely wipe all data from the phone if it is reported stolen.

3. Minimize losses and avoid intrusions with a secure PIN.

Be conscious of where you place your phone and always secure it with a unique PIN or password – not the default it came with - and never share your PIN or password with others.

4. Think before you click, download, forward, or open. 

Before responding, registering, downloading or providing information, get the facts. Go online to check for scams, look up the company or sender, search for hidden fees or reports of malware associated with the company or sender, and independently verify any claims. No matter how tempting the application, if the download isn’t from an app store or the site of a trusted company, walk away.

5. Understand the terms of use. 

Some applications claim extensive rights to accessing and leveraging your personal information. Walk away if the app wants more access than is needed to run their service.

6. Surf safely. 

Many smartphone users use free WiFi hotspots to access data (and keep their phone plan costs down), but you cannot know if that network is safe or compromised so avoid logging into accounts, especially financial accounts when using public wireless networks.

7. Backup your phone’s information. 

How many friends’ (or family member’s) phone numbers do you actually know? For many users, the only source of contact information for people is stored on their cell phones. This makes the loss of a phone painful and potentially hazardous. By backing up your data you ensure you have it – even when you don’t have your phone.

8. Understand Common Wireless Risks

Mobile risks fall into several categories. Take a moment to consider each of these four key vulnerabilities to identify where you may want to make changes in your own cell phone use:

  • Loss of device and information theft. Phones are small and are easy to misplace or have stolen in a moment of inattention. In addition to replacement costs, lost, stolen and ’borrowed’ phones carry the risk of information theft. Abusers may use your accounts, address lists, photos, and more to scam, harm or embarrass you or your friends, they may leverage stored passwords to access and steal your money or run up charges, gain access to sensitive material, and more.
  • Falling for scams. The biggest mobile threats you are likely to face will be socially engineered. Whether it is a phone call, text message, image, or application to download, an incoming communication may be a scam, phishing attempt, or include malicious links.
  • Oversharing. Guidelines for protecting privacy, safety, and reputation when sharing via computers also apply to mobile sharing - with two additions. Mobile devices enable instantaneous distribution of information, and they may broadcast location information.
  • Wireless networks. Smartphones are susceptible to malware and hacking when leveraging unsecured public networks. Public WiFi networks are attractive to hackers because no authentification is necessary to join the network. This allows hackers with the right know-how to wedge themselves between your device and the network in order to snoop on your browsing sessions before the information is encrypted. 

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