Top tips to keep your phone safe

Lose your smart phone and lose your life goes the saying. And an awful lot of phones are lost or stolen each year. However, if you’re a bit canny about your phone security you won’t lose all your personal data. Check out the following tips to stay safe.

Between March 2013 and February 2014 over 180,000 computing and communication devices (think smartphones, tablets and laptops) were reported stolen to UK police, according to freedom of information request obtained by ViaSat a communications company.
A short while later Protect Your Bubble, an insurance firm, unveiled research that revealed the average mobile phone survives just 15 months before being broken, lost or stolen. And last year, it was estimated that one in four breaches (25.3 per cent) in the US financial services sector over recent years were due to lost or stolen devices.
We all lose stuff; it’s inevitable whether its keys, wallets and purses and sometimes even pets. Putting things right can be a bit of a chore such as getting new keys cut, calling the bank if cards have disappeared or tracking down the wandering cat or dog.
The only problem when we lose a phone is that we lose the keys to our digital vault and access to everything we store which is typically photos, contacts, passwords and quite often sensitive card information.
With this in mind here are some top tips to keep your phone and data safe and protected. These tips are largely for Android devices because they are the most popular type of smart device. That said many of them are also relevant to other proprietary operating systems such as Apple’s iOS and Windows Phone.

Lock your phone

This is an obvious one and you may already have done it. But if you haven’t, it’s time to nail down your security. Depending on which device you are using you can either set a PIN code or passcode or make use of Android’s Smart Lock feature which lets you automatically unlock your phone. It lets you unlock your handset with your face and keep your phone unlocked whenever you’re at home, or whenever your device is on you. If you’re using a password to lock your phone, please don’t use ‘password’ or ‘1234567’ they are simply too easy to guess. Create a password that is memorable but tough for anyone else to guess.

Lock your apps

There’s a great feature in Android that allows you to lock your apps when you use an App Lock. It’s really useful for things like email and banking apps and provides an extra layer of security so even if someone gets into your phone, they won’t be able to get at sensitive data. There are lots of App Locks available you just need to do an online search and find the right one for you. It’s interesting to note that more apps are also including Touch ID as a way to lock them down.

Consider a password manager

Passwords are an important defence to guard against someone accessing your data if you lose or have your phone stolen. Each service you use on your phone should ideally have a strong password to protect it. Of course remembering these passwords can be tough which is where password managers come in useful. With a password manager new passwords are created for you and automatically stored. A password manager will also handle logging into accounts automatically. You just need to make sure you create a strong master password for accessing the password manager. Again, there are lots of password manager choices online, and some are free.

Use antivirus

Smartphones are just as vulnerable to viruses and other malware as desktop PCs. In October 2016 an estimated 97 million mobile devices globally were infected by malware and the majority were based on Android. BullGuard Mobile Security is a good, effective antivirus tool that is cloud-based. This means that virus updates are applied automatically from the internet so you always have the latest protection. It doesn’t drain your battery, which is often a criticism of mobile antivirus and what’s more it’s free.
There is a low cost paid for version which includes tough but discreet parental controls to safeguard your children from being exposed to inappropriate content on their smartphones. It also includes antitheft controls to track, locate and wipe data off your phone if it is lost or stolen.

Don’t carry out sensitive transactions on public Wi-Fi networks

Public Wi-Fi networks are notoriously vulnerable to hacking because they are public. Anyone can use them and some hackers have made a full-time job out of accessing other people’s devices via public Wi-Fi. The golden rule is to avoid doing anything sensitive over a public Wi-Fi network such as banking or shopping and we’d even go as far as saying accessing your email accounts. You can use a 4G connection to connect to the internet which is much safer.

Enable remote tracking

Occasionally a story surfaces in the press about an intrepid smartphone owner tracking their stolen device to the home of the thief. They inform the police and the ‘boys in blue,’ do their stuff, nab the miscreant and return the phone to its owner. This is thanks to remote tracking. It’s a standard feature these days and it can be a bit strange to see the location of your device pulsing on a map but it’s a great technology too. As mentioned above, this feature is available with BullGuard Mobile Security but some versions of Android also include it as standard. To use it, you need to download the Android Device Manager app then log into your Google account. You can then track your device remotely.

Avoid unofficial app stores

Stick to the official Google Play Store when downloading apps. The Google Play Store has more than a million apps on it and there are billions of downloads each month, but it’s not the only place to get apps. There are some useful apps on unofficial play stores but according to research from cybersecurity firm Opswat almost a third of Android apps on third-party app stores contain some form of malicious software. This research was carried out several years but there’s no reason to think the data is no longer valid and given that instances of mobile malware are rising year-on-year, the figure today could be higher. If you do feel compelled to search out apps on unofficial stores this is where tools like BullGuard Mobile Security can be extra useful because alongside antivirus protection apps are also scanned for malware.

Log out when you log off

Given that we always have our smartphones on or about our person very few of us log out of our accounts. For instance, when was the last time you logged out of your email account?  It’s much easier and convenient to stay logged into apps and accounts. The only problem is that if someone else gets their hands on your phone they also get access to your accounts which of course could spell trouble, especially if it’s a banking app or email account. The sensible thing is to log out of these accounts when you’ve finished using them. It gives you much more security.

Written by Steve Bell

Steve has a background in IT and business journalism and in the past has written extensively for both the UK national and trade press including The Guardian, Independent-on-Sunday, The Times, The Register, MicroScope and Computer Weekly. He’s also worked for most of the world’s largest IT companies in a copy and content producing capacity. He has a particular focus on IT security and has been involved in writing about the industry at various levels ranging from magazine launches to producing newsletters. He also runs a small copy writing business called Art of Words. When not bashing away at a keyboard he can sometimes be found in a boxing gym making futile efforts to keep fit or marveling at the works of Sufi poets such as Jalaluddin Rumi and Hafiz of Shiraz.

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