As smartphones have become ubiquitous, they have also become the target of criminals, unscrupulous companies, and government agencies seeking to spy on citizens. And many smartphones are extremely vulnerable. Zimperium Labs report that in one study, 95% of Android phones could be hacked via a single text message (the so-called “Stagefright” vulnerability).
When the consequences of smartphone hacking stretch from manipulation by marketers to all-out identity theft, it’s essential to educate ourselves about mobile security. So here are three rock-solid tips that will help to make your phone even smarter when it comes to safety.
1. Implement encryption on your OS
If you’re worried about strangers gaining access to the files on your phone, encrypting them is a no-brainer. Encryption applies a secure key to every file on your phone, without exception. After the key has been applied, the only way to unscramble any of those files is via a password that (in theory) only you know.
Generally, when you encrypt files on Android or iOS phones, it’s extremely hard to reverse the process across the entire OS, short of carrying out a full factory reset, and nobody really wants to do that regularly. So bear in mind that it’s usually a one-way street. But don’t let that stop you. Encrypted phones are much, much more secure than their unprotected cousins.
How to encrypt Android phones
If you’re an Android user, all versions from 3.0 (Lollypop) upwards cater for full disk encryption, and applying encryption shouldn’t be difficult. Here’s how to do so:
- Head to the Settings menu and choose the “Security” menu.
- On this menu screen, you should see an option entitled “Encrypt Phone”. Before you agree to do so, remember that it doesn’t happen instantly. In most cases, encryption will take an hour or two. So be prepared to put your Android phone on charge until the encryption process concludes.
- Before encrypting, the interface will ask you to supply a PIN which will become your de-encryption password.
- Take a moment to remember your passcode, then press “Continue” and your phone will carry out the encryption process.
Applying encryption on iPhones
As for Apple iPhones, you shouldn’t need to encrypt your data, as the vast majority of iPhones automatically apply encryption when they are locked. However, it will be necessary to connect that encryption to a password.
Here’s how to do so:
- Head to the Settings menu on your phone.
- Press the “Touch ID” button, then the “Passcode” option.
- Now enter a suitable password to add an extra layer of defense to your phone’s protection.
2. Protect your phone with an antivirus app
Smartphones are just like computers, and can fall victim to Trojans and worms, designed to extract personal information. And just like computers, you can (and should) install antivirus software to protect your phone.
However, there’s plenty of evidence that phone users ignore the need to protect against viruses. In 2012, Kaspersky found that 40% of phone owners had neglected to install antivirus software.
Part of the reason could be simple complacency. Many people believe that Android phones don’t need antivirus protection because the OS is based on Linux and – famously – Linux doesn’t get viruses.
But that’s a misconception. All phones can receive malware infections from app installations. And their malicious apps are hardly difficult to find. Many are well-disguised as games or educational apps. When you download one, malware could infest your OS before you know it.
Because of this, it’s well worth downloading up to date antivirus apps. But always do so from official portals like the App Store or Google Play. Sometimes even antivirus apps can harbor digital dangers.
3. Install a VPN on your smartphone
Installing a Virtual Private Network for your phone is essential if you want to erect the most robust defenses against snoopers, phishers and malware. These tools work by creating encrypted “tunnels” which connect nodes on the internet. When traffic passes through those tunnels, it can’t be ready by any external eyes. And, in addition, VPNs anonymize users’ identities, making data hard to link to individuals.
These features are particularly useful if you use your smartphone with unsecured wi-fi networks. These networks are often the only source of connectivity when you are on the move, and they are notoriously vulnerable to hackers.
For instance, when you connect to apps like Facebook via unsecured networks, hackers can “sniff” the packets of data you send. By doing so, they can quickly gain access to information required to steal your identity and control social media accounts.
VPNs are also a preferred security tool for professionals who work remotely. Whether you rely on a tablet or your iPhone for working on the road, a VPN can create a wall around your communications, reassuring you and your employer that those transmissions will remain confidential.
Choosing a VPN for your smartphone
When picking the right VPN for your mobile phone, try to avoid free services. There are plenty of free VPNs around, and most of them offer very light protection, if their encryption works at all. With mobile VPNs, you get what you pay for.
Secondly, look for VPNs which offer 128 or 256-bit AES encryption and protocols like OpenVPN or IKEv2/IPsec. And steer well clear of any VPNs which are shady where logging is concerned. Many keep records of user activity and sell that data on to marketers. You can’t trust them with your mobile security.
Use multiple security methods to maximize your smartphone security
Few of us are going to abandon using smartphones due to the risk of man-in-the-middle attacks or malicious apps. But we all need to take steps to protect our phones nonetheless. By combining a solid VPN with a high-quality antivirus package and handset data encryption, you can make your smartphone secure enough to counter almost any threat.