Smartphones have been around for over a decade now, and there’s a good chance you’re reading this article on one. Chances are that someone else can read what’s on your screen too. Few people have taken the extra steps to secure their mobile devices and make sure that all their information is safe from cyber threats. Your bank account and passwords might be compromised by some nasty smartphone malware and you wouldn’t even realize it.
While you might think that you have to invest in expensive security software to prevent prying eyes from poking around your private data, this couldn’t be any further from the truth.
There are indeed plenty of security programs on the market, and many of them do a great job of locking down your phone. However, we asked our resident group of experts for their top 9 favorite tips that you can use right now without having to invest in any third-party app.
Every one of these is easy enough that you can try them while you’re browsing our page. Best of all, they’ll work just as well to protect your tablet from cyber attacks.
Remove Apps You Don’t Use
Every app you don’t use is a potential attack vector that’s not doing you any good. While you won’t want to go wild deleting things, you can generally safely remove any app that you installed yourself.
Tap the settings button and then tap the Apps control. You can then touch the icon of any app you’d like to purge and select Uninstall. This can even free up some memory and reduce overhead, which can make things more snappy.
Disable Apps from Unknown Sources
Most users don’t install apps from anywhere besides the official app store. However, your phone might be configured to allow installation of apps downloaded from anywhere. Turning this feature off can help reduce the risk of hackers installing some kind of malware on your device.
Tap the Security button in the Settings menu and click on Application settings. Make sure that the checkbox next to “Allow installation of non-Market applications” is cleared. The exact phrasing might depend on what firmware version your phone is running.
Install Latest Android or iOS Updates
Installing updates isn’t fun, so most people just defer them until their phones either download them automatically or simply wear out. Engineers from Google and Apple are always researching the latest cyber threats and they package many new security features in each update.
The next time you’re asked to download and install an OS one, make sure you go through the process.
Turn Off USB Debugging
Some Android devices might ship with USB Debugging on by default, and you’ll want to turn this off in most cases. This allows software developers to treat their smartphones as external hard disks if they plug them into a PC or MacBook. It can, unfortunately, serve as an attack vector the moment you plug your phone in to transfer photos. Some people have even installed smartphone malware this way by mistake.
Head to Settings and click on Developer. Make sure the checkbox next to USB Debugging is cleared. You’ll still be able to transfer files to and from your phone, but you’ll be doing it securely.
Pay Attention to App Permissions Warnings
When you install a new app, you’re generally asked to approve a list of permissions the app needs to function properly. You can also change these options in the Security panel in your phone’s settings app.
While it can be tempting to ignore them, you should never click the Accept button when you’re uncomfortable with the terms. Think about how much information an app really needs. For instance, if a small chess game wants access to your camera it looks pretty suspicious.
Browse with a VPN
If you have access to a virtual private network, then you can use it on your phone just like your PC. While you might have to pay for a subscription if you don’t already have one, many people don’t realize they can use their existing one with their mobile devices. Simply head over to the Settings app and then tap the “Edit VPN Profile” control under networking. All you’ll need to enter is the same information you used to set the network up on your PC or Mac.
Switch Back to a PIN-based Lock Screen
Android and iOS both offer many alternate ways to lock your phone. Are you using a swipe pattern, facial recognition app or some other exotic method of unlocking your phone’s screen? All of these methods can be broken relatively easily using certain algorithms. Switching back to the more traditional PIN-based lock could help to thwart would-be attackers.
Enable Two-Factor Authorization
While gimmicky ways of unlocking your phone might not keep you very secure, these can help if they’re part of a two-factor authorization (2FA) scheme. If your phone has this option, then you can enable it to require you to use two methods to log into various accounts. It’s hard for crackers to spoof the gestures involved and it might even keep people out of your account if you lose your phone.
Shut Off NFC
Take a look at your phone’s connections tab. You probably use WiFi at least occasionally and you naturally don’t want to touch your mobile connection. However, many people don’t use Bluetooth yet leave it on. Disabling it turns off yet another attack vector and might even save some battery life. You might also find that NFC, S BEAM and other esoteric technologies are switched on. Disabling them can again make your phone at least a little more resilient against smartphone hacking.