With so much of our lives online these days, losing our smartphone or tablet is arguably our worst nightmare. Worst still would be it falling in the wrong hands. And yet most people almost invite their lives to be turned upside down with the low level of care they take to protect their personal information; a potential goldmine for hackers, scammers and thieves.
Mobile phone security is especially challenging because devices are designed to connect in multiple different ways. Whether it is a text message, email, web browsing, or accessing a Bluetooth device, for a hacker each method of communication is a potential route to getting access to your most confidential information.
Research shows that people are much more likely to click on images or videos sent to a mobile phone than to a PC, because it is so convenient and it feels natural. Phones are also often set to connect automatically and display quick preview images, data or text. This makes it easy for a hacker to send malicious code or a virus to unsuspecting users.
Fortunately, it's not too difficult to take precautions, and below I offer a range of tips to protect your smart device and personal information.
1. Strong Passwords and PINs are essential on all your devices
Smartphones, laptops, and tablets. In the event that any of your gadgets have been misplaced, forgotten or stolen this becomes your first line of defence.
2. Use Wi-Fi hotspots with extreme care
Free Wi-Fi is of course very appealing but it comes with security dangers. Public wireless networks at coffee shops, hotels, libraries, airports or conference venues are not secure, which means that anyone with spyware could potentially see and intercept what you type on your phone including logins, passwords and financial information. This is know a 'man in the middle' attack.
3. Do not access personal accounts or sensitive data while connected to such networks
If you must, make sure you always use a virtual private network (a VPN) or use your normal 3G/4G data connection. You can also quite easily check that the site you are accessing is itself secure; if the site is safe, the URL will start with the letters ‘https’ instead of 'http'.
In addition, the address bar or the browser’s status bar will display a small icon of a lock. Clicking this icon will reveal details about the security certificate issued, known as SSL authentication, to the site indicating when it was issued, who issued it and if it is still current.
If you make a lot of online purchases consider having a separate online credit or debit so you can place a credit limit and monitor the transactions closely; or use a PayPal account which provides further security. Before purchasing from an unknown provider for the first time read previous customer reviews to establish if anyone has had a bad experience.
4. Minimize location sharing
People agree to location sharing when requested by apps they have downloaded without thinking and end up creating an additional security threat. By signalling your every location, you make it easy for a criminal to establish where you are, thereby leaving your personal belongings, even the safety of others at home, vulnerable to a physical intrusion.
5. Keep your mobile devices and apps up to date
Every day thousands of new viruses and malware are released onto the internet by hackers. Having the most up-to-date operating system, web browser and apps is the best defence against these and other online threats. Take special care to update apps you regularly use to conduct your financial or personal business.
Don't delay on this just because you are low on memory space. Quick tip: this should not be an issue if you keep a clean machine by ruthlessly deleting WhatsApp videos, photos and apps you no longer need.
6. Install anti-malware protection
This is additional to the security software provided by the operating system and is again an easy and effective way to keep your personal information secure. Choose a trusted brand, such as Norton Utilities, Kaspersky, Trend Micro, and make sure you keep it updated.
7. Disable Bluetooth connectivity
Just like your phone’s automatic Wi-Fi connectivity, Bluetooth connectivity can present security hazards. With Bluetooth left on, nearby assailants can connect to your phone and potentially hack into your device. Use Bluetooth only when you need it to talk to specific devices known to you and disable it immediately afterwards.
8. Don’t assume links are genuine
Take extra care when visiting an online bank, a retailer or a payment website. Take the time to manually type in the URL, instead of clicking on a link. Remember reputable organisations do not send fake emails asking customers to send personal data or visit their site for authorisation and verification.
If you feel unsure, call your bank, mortgage broker or builder and ask. Quick tip: You can also use Whois Lookup and IP service in order to find out more information about their domain, including how long it has been in use and who owns it.
9. Check if your credentials have been compromised
Millions of personal records like email addresses, passwords and credit card details get exposed during major data breaches such as Yahoo, Equifax, Ashley Madison and the recent British Airways hack. Quick tip: regularly checking on Have I Been Pwned will indicate if your details are still safe.
10. Finally, think before you app
Information about you, your likes, dislikes, interests and affiliations; your contacts list, where you shop and your location, has as much value as money. Think carefully about who gets that information and how it’s collected.
REMEMBER: Personal information is like money, value it, protect it.
Are you interested in how you can become a qualified cyber security professional and protect companies from hackers and data breaches? Get in touch with our expert cyber security career consultants today to discuss the best pathway for you to become a certified professional on 01273 907919.