Your smartphone probably contains more of your personal information than any of your other devices. You probably use it to post on social media, do your banking, send your emails, and communicate with loved ones. You might not even have a laptop or tablet at all — 17 percent of Americans are “smartphone only” internet users.
But is your mobile device safe from hackers? It had better be, because threats abound. You could download a malicious app, get scammed via social media, or inadvertently contract a virus by visiting a malicious website. And using an antivirus suite to protect your phone is essential, but it’s not the whole picture. Follow these five steps to keep hackers out of your smartphone.
1) Lock Your Screen with a Passcode
You might be surprised to learn that almost a third of Americans don’t even use a password to protect their smartphone from unauthorized access. That’s probably because most people trust their families and friends not to snoop through their phones — but you never know what your nasty aunt or rebellious teen might decide to pull. It’s also true that your phone is vulnerable to physical theft, and without a password, whoever might steal your phone will immediately have access to all your personal data. At least passcode protection buys you some time to wipe your data from the device remotely.
2) Download Wisely
You can have the best mobile security software and the best passcode protection, but it won’t matter if you’re downloading a lot of unauthorized third-party apps or pirated software and files. Quite a lot of the time, malware infections happen because the user inadvertently downloaded a malicious app or file, because they thought it was a legitimate one, or they were seeking out unauthorized content, or they got tricked by a phishing email.
You’ll need to learn how to spot phishing emails, and cautiously evaluate any message that seeks out login information, asks you to follow a link to a third site, or encourages you to download an attachment. Your bank or the IRS will never send you an email asking for login credentials or private information, and if you receive any email messages warning about unauthorized transactions on your account or asking you to follow a link to sign in, be careful. If you want to check your accounts, type the login URL into a separate browser window to be sure you’re navigating to the legitimate site, instead of a spoofed copy that will only steal your login credentials.
3) Use a Unique, Strong Password for Each App
If you’re using the same password for all of your accounts and apps, stop! Hackers will only need to get the password for one account, and they’ll have the passwords for all of your accounts. Passwords should not be one-size-fits all.
Coming up with a unique, strong, hard-to-guess password for a couple dozen different apps and accounts is no small feat, and that’s why there are password managers designed to help you generate, save, and retrieve your plethora of unique passwords. Some devices and most antivirus suites now come with built-in password managers.
4) Use Antivirus Software
Antivirus software isn’t just for laptop and desktop computers — your phone needs it, too. If you have a lot of diverse devices in your household, choose a comprehensive suite that covers all the devices in your home. These programs can run on laptops or desktops, smart phones, and tablets, and they offer a wide range of features that can help you secure your network and protect your family. Parental controls, network monitoring, device monitoring, and screen time monitoring are just some of the additional options you’ll get from most paid antivirus suites.
5) Connect Only to Secure Networks
Unencrypted, public wireless networks might help you keep your data costs down, but they’re not great from a security standpoint. Data exchanged over unencrypted networks is visible to every user on the network that knows how to spot it. But don’t ratchet up your mobile data plan just yet. Instead, use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your traffic on unsecured public networks.
Your smartphone is just as hackable as any other device, and the data it contains make it a ripe target for hackers. Secure your phone, and keep your personal data and communications safe from criminals.