How to Protect Your Smartphone Data

Home automation has been around for some time now, but recent technological advancements have really catapulted it into the spotlight.  You can control just about anything in your home from your smartphone.  Change the temperature of the A/C, turn on and off lights, arm and disarm your security systems or even download a shopping list from your refrigerator…  All these home solutions are now available in the palm of your hand.

People from coast to coast are elated to have these conveniences at their fingertips.  What many tend to forget is how much personal data is stored in a typical smartphone.  If your smartphone data is not well protected, you are vulnerable to becoming a victim of data theft and other criminal activity.

Imagine this scenario:  You lose your phone, or it is stolen.  A shameless crook gets ahold of it and realizes there are minimal security measures in place and quickly gains access to your phone and all the apps.  Having access to all your data, the criminal uses your contact info or GPS history to locate your home.  On the way to burglarize your home, this villain also realizes you have your home security app on your phone as well.  Upon arrival the thief uses your smartphone to disarm the alarm and unlock the door.

Guess who inside your house right now!  Scary right? Not to worry.  We have some great advice on how to protect your sensitive apps and data from being access by the wrong person.

Password Protect Your Phone and Apps

At a minimum you need to have a passcode installed on your smartphone as a first line of defense.  To protect yourself even further, use additional passwords to access any applications that harbor any sensitive information (like banking apps and your email and social media apps) or that are used to gain access to your home security and automation.

This dual level of password protection can make all the difference if a criminal gets past your phone’s passcode on the lock-out screen.  The passwords you use are also of great importance.  We wrote an article back in January on how to protect your personal identity online.  In it we suggest you use a different password for every online account you have.  If your password is the same for your online banking, email and Amazon account, just imagine the damage that could be done if the password were to be exposed.

Use a combination of upper and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols (at least 8 characters long) and change them often just to make sure you stay ahead of the lawbreakers.  It is also advisable to log out of all apps when you are not using them.  Social media apps are the most common apps installed that will keep a user logged in at all times which leaves you vulnerable.  Just log out and stay safe.

New biometric technologies are also emerging that you can take advantage of like thumbprint, retina scans and face recognition.  A code or password might be able to be guessed or hacked, but biometrics are proving to be much harder to beat.

Beware of App Malware

Even the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store only scan apps for basic security features.  Third-party apps you can download outside of these two marketplaces need to be heavily scrutinized before installing.

Unfortunately, there can be a lot of security vulnerabilities in downloadable apps.  Sometimes the app developer is unaware and sometimes the security cracks are put in their intentionally.  Only download apps from trusted sources.

Also, be wary of apps that ask for too many permissions and access to your data.  Some apps need access to your location, camera, contacts and other data.  If an app asks for access to any of these items and it doesn’t make sense, find a different app to use.  A banking app might need access to your phone’s camera if you wish to use the mobile check depositing feature, but a simple tic-tac-toe game shouldn’t need access to your contacts, correct?  Make sure you understand what access you are granting all apps installed on your phone.

Apps also need to be kept up-to-date.  Sometimes security issues can arise, and a software update is necessary to secure that app.  In many cases, you can set your phone to accept automatic updates, so you do not miss an important security patch.

Don’t Use Public Wi-Fi to Access Personal Data

By no means is public Wi-Fi a secure connection.  It is very easy for nearby criminals to infiltrate the network and capture your sensitive information.  If you do need to connect, we highly advise you to not log into any apps that access personal online data like your bank account.

We also advise that you disable your phone’s ability to automatically connect to Wi-Fi when available.   Make your phone asks you to confirm any connections just to stay safe.

Track Your Phone if Lost or Stolen and Wipe Data if Necessary

There are multiple ways to track your phone and wipe your data if necessary.  Google has instructions on how to find, lock, or erase a lost Android deviceApple also provides the same features for iPhones.

If your phone is not recoverable, at least you can rest assured that remote-wipe capabilities can delete all sensitive information.  You can also set up your phone to automatically delete all data from your phone with too many failed login attempts.

It is a good idea to keep a regular backup of all your contacts and data.  Keep it on your PC at home, in an external drive or in the cloud.  This way should something happen like damage, theft or just losing your phone, you will be able to restore your contacts and data when you recover your wiped-out phone or get a new one.

Encrypt and Secure Your Sensitive Data

Chances are, your phone already is set to encrypt all data so that it can only be read with a password.  Nonetheless, we still suggest you confirm those settings yourself.

Other tactics to secure your data are simple, yet very effective.  For instance, do not store your home’s address in your phone.  Instead save the address of a nearby store or other address.  It will still work when you want to get map directions when you want to go somewhere but does not give out your exact location.

Using common sense and limiting the amount of data in your phone are really your best lines of defense.  Using strong and unique passwords for everything, turning off geo-location features and limiting app access are just methods to support your common sense.


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