We live in world where our entire lives can be accessed through our phones. Think of all the personal information that is stored on your device; photos, banking details, names and addresses, work/personal emails, social media profiles, and geolocation that tracks your every movement. It’s no conspiracy that apps are stealing and selling your data, so how do you retain your privacy and security when it’s so readily available?
The only way to guarantee no application or website will ever steal your personal information again is to throw your phone in the ocean, delete all social media, email and subscription accounts, withdraw every dollar from your savings, and spend a life ‘off-the-grid’. However, unless you’re a hermit living off the land in a wooden cabin situated in a remote area, this isn’t exactly feasible. That’s why we’ve put together 9 tips to keep your phone safe from hackers and your data hidden from prying eyes.
1. Use a Password Manager
I have been 100% guilty of using the same passwords across my internet banking, emails and social media accounts. Is this easy and practical? Yes. Is it safe? Not in the slightest!
In the case of a data breach, hackers can gain access to your login details. Using the same email and password combination for all of your logins means a cybercriminal can potentially own the master key to accessing every one of your accounts that use the same email and password combo.
The strongest passwords are comprised of letters, numbers and symbols in a string of no particular order or sense. These passwords should look like a cat just walked across your keyboard (for example: jR7z5$R?68<*G>M). However, while randomly generated passwords are difficult for computers to crack, they veer on being impossible to remember; especially if you are using a different password for each of your accounts (which you indeed should).
Fortunately, with a Password Manager you won’t need to frantically search for the scrap of paper you wrote your Netflix password on and then ‘hid in a safe place’, or compile a Word document listing all of your logins. Password Managers keep all of your passwords in one encrypted and password-protected app. They can also generate strong unique passwords and save your credit card and shipping information to readily autofill forms.
Check out LastPass for a free and secure Password Manager, accessible on both your phone and your computer.
2. Watch What You Download/Install
We all love checking out and installing new apps on the Google Play or Apple store, but how many of these apps are actually safe? When you install a new app, you may be asked to grant permissions including the ability to read files or access your camera/microphone and your location. Most of the time there are legitimate reasons for granting these permissions, but if an app won’t allow you to use it without permissions then think twice about downloading it. This is especially true for Android users, as the Google Play store’s vetting processes aren’t as strict as Apple’s.
Additionally, a quick Google search can generally tell you if the app is legitimate. These searches can reveal if data or privacy breaches are a common occurrence, and whether or not the app is a scam. Avoid apps that have been breached multiple times as this suggests they are aware of the breaches and are doing nothing to solve them.
Another sign that you may have downloaded an app with malicious intent is if you notice changes in your phone. If it is heating up or has slowed significantly, this suggests the app may be running in the background.
3. Review Apps and Permissions
If you’ve owned your phone for a while, you probably have apps installed that you haven’t looked twice at in quite some time. You should regularly review apps and delete ones you no longer have a use for. Not only do these apps take up unnecessary space, but they could also no longer be supported, creating avenues for potential cyber criminals to crack and gain access to your device.
On top of this, review the permissions on apps you already have on your phone. We suggest frequently going through each app and inspecting which permissions have been set. You should ask yourself whether it makes sense for the app to access certain permissions. For example, most games do not need to access to your location or your camera and microphone, and a calculator app certainly does not need to view your contact list.
4. Safeguard Your Social Media Accounts
Social media often plays a vital role in our daily lives, regardless of whether you use it to connect with loved ones on your personal profile or to share information with your clients and consumers. Apps such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are goldmines of personal information so it’s important that you follow these essential tips to keep your data and info safe.
Use a strong password
If you have a weak password, the chances of your account’s security becoming compromised grow exponentially. Use a unique and strong password (refer back to the Use a Password Manager section of this blog) and enable two-factor authentication. This can be enabled in the settings of your social media app.
Update your privacy and security settings
Security Settings: If you’re like me, you rarely ever check the privacy and security settings on your social media accounts unless you notice something fishy or strange going on. It’s important that you regularly revisit your settings and check the devices you are logged into. If you notice any devices or places that you don’t recognise, you can log out of any chosen (or all) devices and reset your password. In the security section of your account, you can also enable two factor authentication, change your password, and authorise logins and accounts.
Privacy Settings: In a world where anyone can search your name and find your social media account, it’s important that you set strict privacy settings to protect your personal information and the things you share on your social media. It’s recommended that you hide all of your posts and personal info (such as where you work, what town you live in, where you go to school) and display this info only to people who are on your friends list. That way if anyone tries to look you up, they will get the bare minimum of info (such as your profile photo and name) and will need to send a friend or follow request in order to get more information.
5. Update Software and Apps
Everyone dreads the ‘Update OS’ notifications, and it’s likely that you often forget to do so. However, failing to update your software can cause critical issues in the integrity of the security of your device, as these updates keep your phone one step ahead of hackers and the latest methods of exploitation. Set your phone’s setting to update automatically during the night so you don’t forget to install critical OS updates. Also set all of your apps (particularly your internet banking) to auto-update.
6. Use a VPN on Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi offers the opportunity to get work done in cafes/restaurants and provides access to the internet when you are low on data or overseas, but it can also leave your phone open and vulnerable to other people lurking on the same public network. As such, we recommend downloading a VPN app to keep your data safe. A VPN not only shields you from potential hackers or snoopers but can also mask your data transmissions. There are dozens of VPN apps available on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store for free, but some may have questionable practices so conduct thorough research before installing one. The most popular VPN apps are:
Android: NordVPN, TunnelBear, Kaspersky
Apple: ProtonVPN, Hide.me, TunnelBear
7. Install a Security/Antivirus App
Similar to any antivirus apps you may have installed on your PC, it’s also recommended you install one on your phone. There are offshoots to desktop apps such as Avast, McAfee, and Panda, along with many others. These apps provide enhanced security by ensuring any apps, PDFs, images and other files you download are free from malicious malware or ransomware before you open them.
8. Use Built-In Smartphone Protections
Take advantage of your phone’s built-in security to safeguard your device if it is lost or stolen. By enabling Find My iPhone or Find My Device, you can locate your missing device on a map and automatically erase the information. You can also set the phone to delete all information after a set number of incorrect password attempts.
9. Prevent iPhone Apps from Tracking You (iOS 14.5)
iPhone recently added a new feature in iOS 14.5 that allows you to keep your online information more private by enabling the option to turn off ad tracking within your apps. This means that unless you give specific permission to an app, it can’t use your data for targeted ads, share your location data or use your advertising ID with advertisers or third parties. You can enable the App Tracking Transparency feature in Settings > Privacy > Tracking.
While we can’t guarantee that your device will lever be 100% safe from cybercriminals and hackers, following these 9 essential steps will ensure you have basic protections in place for the safety of your personal information and data.