While a few of us still actually use our smartphones to make phone calls, we’re more likely using them for banking, texting and checking our social media accounts. All of that involves transmitting or storing personal information that can be intercepted or stolen. Likewise, many individuals who diligently keep their laptop computer protected with the latest in virus software are still vulnerable through their smartphones. As smartphone use surpasses desktop and laptop use, an increasing number of viruses are specifically targeting smartphones. Here are 10 things you can do to protect yourself, according to information from the FBI, the Internet Crime Complaint Center and security professionals.
10. Know Your Smartphone’s Features
Most of us learn technology as we need it; few owners know even half of their phone’s features. Do you know how to enable security features? How to lock out a phone? Just as importantly, turn off features you don’t need or use to minimize what security professionals call the “attack surface” of your phone. Also, owners are unaware of just how much personal information is contained in their phone’s memory cache, making you extremely vulnerable if your phone is lost or stolen.
9. Enable or Install a Locator Application
Apple was the first to offer this feature on its iPhones, allowing you to locate your smartphone if it is stolen. Now there are apps that can track your Blackberry and Android devices, and even remotely take photos of the thief or his surroundings. You can use these apps to not only locate your stolen (or lost) phone on a Google map, but to remotely lock the device. But it goes without saying you have to enable or install these apps before the phone is lost or stolen.
8. Avoid Unfamiliar Wireless Networks
This is much easier said than done for frequent travelers, but your risk of attack/intrusion goes up using alien open Wi-Fi hotspots. If you’re checking into a hotel, make sure you connect with the hotel’s official network, rather than someone who might have set up a wireless network nearby with the express intent of stealing your information. Several platforms such as Windows-based phones have permission settings for home versus public networks. Be leery of transmitting sensitive passwords or account information on open networks. Also, turn off your phone’s WiFi in public unless using it; not only could it inadvertently “latch on” to a passing network, but it also drains power.
7. Be Wary of Applications that Enable Geo-Location
Standard on phones now, GPS software can also be enabled while using applications such as Twitter or Foursquare to transmit the user’s location. Especially in the case of mobile use of social media, this could be used by stalkers or potential burglars. (Example; if you just “checked in” on Foursquare at Home Depot, you’re unlikely to be home.)
6. Never Click on an Unknown Link
We’ve all seen them before, the mysterious “bare link” devoid of any contextual information, inviting us to click on it. Many a virus or spyware program spreads in just this fashion. Likewise, never forward or “retweet” a link until verifying what it contains, and only then by using virus-scanning software. If a friend suddenly starts sending you “spammy” links, message them directly and inform them to change their password immediately. On a similar note, beware of suspicious email offers. We all get them, every day. Suspicious emails promising airline flights, free gift cards, your part in a fortune of a deposed Nigerian princess who is heir to millions, if only she had a bank account abroad to deposit it in … we’re two decades into the Internet culture, and you’d think that people would know better by now. But scammers are constantly improving their tactics, to lure even the most educated and wary consumers. The very fact that this sort of online confidence game has spread to the realm of the smartphones shows that a sucker still clicks on a link, every minute. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
5. Be Wary of Downloading Malicious Apps
This may come as a surprise to some people, but many apps available for download contain malicious Trojans. The FBI recommends checking reviews of apps and/or the developer before downloading them. Be wary of brand-new releases that have few ratings. Also, understand the terms and conditions of use you are giving the developer when you download an app. Here’s more detailed advice from DigitalTrends.com on how to ensure your apps are safe.
4. Use Malware Protection
Many people who wouldn’t dream of using their home computer without the latest security updates still roam gleefully about with their smartphone unprotected. Keep all software and malware on your smartphones updated with the latest security features, and use the encryption settings that are now available on most phones. Many computer software security protection packages now have programs that extend protection to smartphones as well. And make sure that your home Wi-Fi connection is encrypted and password protected, as most of us now use our fleet of gadgets on our home network.
3. Do Not Disable Your Smartphone’s Security Settings
We’ve all been there. Perhaps you unlocked your phone (known as “jailbreaking”) to utilize hot new applications or programs, or perhaps you just like the idea of “sticking it to the man” or at least your “Big Brother” service provider. Jailbreaking, or rooting, is also a fact of life for Americans who wish to use their phones on local networks while travelling worldwide. But be aware that said jailbreaking could leave the phone’s security status open to attack. Understand the vulnerabilities of the programs that you plan to install, and make sure that anti-virus software stays in place.
2. Use Common Sense
The same basic rules of the information superhighway that apply to laptops and desktop computers are true for smartphones. Never share passwords. If you sell your phone, wipe it clean (the memory, that is) and the same holds true if you dispose of it. In the case of disposal, physical destruction is the best bet, and hey, it actually feels pretty good to take a sledgehammer to your smartphone! Also, the same warnings for tethering a phone apply to swapping out USB thumb drives; make sure that an alien device is properly scanned before it gains access to your phone.
1. Pick a Strong Password
We’ll let you in on a not-so-very-small secret: “Password” makes a terrible password. The same goes for birthdays, anniversaries, phone numbers, “qwerty,” and “123456.” Some people clearly can’t be bothered to pick a good password (if you don’t believe that, check out this link to the Internet Crime Complaint Center to see the most ridiculously common passwords of 2012.) A strong smartphone password contains a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, symbols, and numbers and is six characters or greater in length. Also, use a unique password for sensitive applications, and rotate it frequently (once a month, or at least once every three months minimum). A good way to work in characters is to substitute them for letters, such as “!” for 1 or l, “$” for S, or “@” for a … you get the idea. Get creative; scientific constants/formulas make great passwords (people hate math) but beyond that, I’d be saying too much.
More: How to File a Complaint
OK, despite your best efforts, you’ve been victimized by a smartphone hacker or scam. To help prevent others from being victimized, and to help bring the offending party to justice, file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.