From home to office and everywhere in between, our mobile devices keep us connected 24/7. This lets us manage different aspects of our lives more seamlessly, at any time, from anywhere. But because our smartphones are always on -- connected to the Internet through their data networks or public Wi-Fi -- they also put us at greater risk of having our personal information stolen by bad actors who make the Internet their playground.
Here are some simple steps you can take when using a mobile device to minimize the odds that your data ends up in the wrong hands.
Tip 1: Take care of the device itself
- Purchase new mobile devices from a reputable source. Read reviews from tech experts and other consumers to see what they say about security features.
- Avoid buying second-hand phones or tablets. Even if they have been reset, you can't know whether the previous owner installed malware or if the device is malfunctioning in any way.
- Keep your device's software updated. Often these updates include security features or fixes to glitches.
- Set up a password or passcode to lock/unlock your smartphone or tablet. If the feature is available on your device, use your fingerprint as a passcode.
Tip 2: Be careful how you connect to the Internet
- Purchase data plans from reputable providers, and do consumer research on the network reach, connectivity quality, and security.
- At home, connect your mobile devices to your Wireless Protected Access 2 (WPA2) network, protected by a strong alphanumeric and special character password of your choice.
- On the go, avoid connecting your mobile devices to mobile hotspots or public Wi-Fi, as they are inherently insecure.
- Know your mobile device settings: how to turn on and off data connectivity and Wi-Fi access, and how to enable and disable mobile hotspots and Bluetooth. Keep these off when not required.
Tip 3: Know the apps you download
- Download apps from a legitimate app store and check that you are downloading the official application of the service, especially one that deals with payments or banking.
- Turn off geolocation settings for most of the apps on your mobile device unless they are dependent on location-based services (e.g., a maps app).
- Under Settings on your device, take the time to manage your apps and keep them regularly updated. Uninstall those you no longer use.
- Manage the privacy and security settings of your apps, particularly for any "bloatware" -- software installed by the manufacturer often for marketing purposes. You often cannot uninstall these.
Tip 4: Be aware of attacks that target your mobile devices
- Fraudsters may target you via text message scams known as SMiShing. Don't reply to a text, or click on links in a text, if you don't recognize the sender. And never provide any sensitive information via text.
- Using your mobile device abroad can make you vulnerable when connecting to another country's mobile network, even when you have turned off your data plan but are still using your smartphone for calls. A foreign mobile network may be the target of fraud, may use a different or less secure infrastructure, or may be regulated differently or actively monitored by the foreign government. You are subject to that country's regulations on privacy and security.
- Cybercriminals may scout public Wi-Fi or even password-protected Wi-Fi, such as those in hotels, to obtain information. Use extra caution when connecting in these environments.