Smartphone Security Checklist: A Lock Screen Isn’t Enough


by Kyla Camile | |

Unbeknownst to many internet users, their computers alone are no longer the only security risk they should be worrying about. Though a fair amount of personal information is likely stored on most computers, internet-enabled mobile devices can sometimes hold even more. The cherry on top (at least for hackers) is that unlike PCs, mobile devices tend to automatically connect to unsecured public WiFi networks, making them an easy target.

Aside from public WiFi, apps are another way hackers can easily make their way into your mobile device. The unfortunate truth is that app stores cannot always check each and every app for malware or malicious intent and by the time a problem with an app is brought to their attention, users have already had their device compromised. So how do you avoid becoming one of those users in the “unlucky batch”?

The answer is simple: take preventative measures and safe-guard your mobile device as soon as possible! To get started, here’s a checklist of what you should do to protect your smartphone or tablet.

Use Strong Passwords

Not everyone fancies a password-protected lock screen, but it could actually protect your personal information if someone decided to take off with your device. Using it in times when you may not be able to keep an eye on your smartphone or tablet is a wise idea, but don’t forget to create a strong password when doing so.

Your password shouldn’t be shorter than eight characters long, and it should always include a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols (whenever possible). Be sure to stick to this rule for any password you create, whether it be your lock screen password or the password to one of your online accounts. Never reuse any password, as that makes it easier for hackers or thieves to access more of your personal information (two accounts compromised is always worse than one).

Another password tip that can really come in handy for protecting your mobile device is to avoid saving your passwords. It definitely can be tempting to save each and every password for automatic log in on your accounts or apps, but it’s also a huge security risk. With your passwords saved, anyone who might gain access to your device could then easily steal your identity, send out malicious hyperlinks to your contacts and more.

Writing down your passwords is another thing that could ultimately end in a breach of your security, but with the amount of online accounts many have, a password reminder is often necessary. If you must leave yourself a reminder, make it a hint that only you would understand and leave out any bits and pieces of the actual password itself.

Read the Fine Print Before You Download

Perhaps one of the most appealing benefits of having a tablet or smartphone is the ability to download and use apps. Not only for gaming, apps can also be used in place of common tools, such as compasses or rulers, or even as a way to learn new skills. With over 1 million apps in both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, who wouldn’t be tempted to download as many as their device can handle?

The problem lies in the fact that new apps are being developed quite often and hitting the digital shelves of the app stores before Apple or Google can realistically weed out the malicious ones. That leaves the users open to becoming the “testers,” meaning there is a potential security risk any time you download a new app. Even apps boasting a well-known title could be a problem, as sometimes they may be knock-offs that have the intention of persuading a large number of people to download them.

Always read through the reviews before downloading any app on your device. If there are a number of bad reviews or any stating that the app caused their smartphone or tablet to crash, carefully consider your choice to download it. Weigh the pros and cons; sometimes it could be that the reviewer’s phone simply could not handle the app or the app isn’t compatible with their OS or phone model. Worst case scenario is that the app was actually being used as a way to plant malware.

Read the user permissions for every app as well. Certain apps may require access to your camera, for example, when the app itself doesn’t have any features that would need to utilize your device’s camera. Keep your eye out for red flags such as that before you accept the user permissions and begin downloading. It’s also wise to stick to the app stores when searching for apps to download, instead of visiting random websites.

If anything suspicious comes to your attention about an app before downloading, run a quick Google search. There’s a possibility that some users have already been victimized by the app and a Google search could bring that to your attention.

Check the URL before Visiting a Website

If you’ve been a smartphone user for a while now, chances are you’ve received a text message with a hyperlink in it at least once. Tablet users, maybe you’ve received the same in a message or email. Checking out the website is likely most peoples’ immediate reaction, but by doing so, you could be opening your device up to malware.

Not every hyperlink leads where it claims, and not every website is legitimate, even if it appears to be familiar. Websites that look similar to popular pages are a common tactic hackers use to lure people into giving away their personal information (for example, through sign up forms or logins). Sometimes these malicious links could even be sent to you from one of your friends or family members.

It’s not uncommon for people to have their accounts hacked for some reason or another, so even if you receive downloads or hyperlinks from close contacts, check for any signs of their account being hacked before opening a link or downloading a file. Different styles of typing could be a clue and when in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Check the URL before opening any link. Often, you can do this by holding your finger down on the link for a few seconds. A small window should appear with the URL information, though it could be different, depending on your device. Try it out with a link you know to be safe first!

Use Security Apps

Knowing the basics of mobile device security is rarely enough. To ensure maximum security of your tablet or smartphone, always use security apps. Just like on your home computer, you can utilize an anti-virus, which will scan your device for malware on a regular basis and help you remove it if it ever does show up.

There are several free anti-virus apps that work just as well as their paid versions, Avast Free Mobile Security being one of my personal favorites due to its anti-theft features. Another app you shouldn’t go without is a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which will allow you to safely connect to public WiFi and remain anonymous online.

A VPN encrypts your internet connection, allows you to unblock websites and protects you from malware by routing your internet traffic through a secure remote server. ExpressVPN comes highly recommended for mobile devices and will work for just about any operating system.

Protection Online

Securing your mobile device is one of the most important steps you can take when it comes to safe-guarding your personal information. Hackers and malware are lurking on many seemingly safe online environments (social media, for example) and with the ever-increasing popularity of the internet, more companies are beginning to encourage their customers to create online accounts.

There are certainly benefits to using the internet, so long as you know how to keep yourself protected. Luckily, keeping yourself safe on the internet is simple, given the right advice and tools to do so. Just don’t forget to apply some of these tips to your home computer as well!

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