smartphone security

In recent years there have been lots of high-profile data breaches. While many of us have become better at protecting our data on our PC or laptop, it’s still relatively easy for hackers to get hold of your personal information via your smartphone.

There are some simple steps that you can take with regards to smartphone security. Here, we look at how you can keep your phone secure.

Turn on your phone’s security

Your first step should always be to secure your handset itself. If a thief gets hold of your phone and you haven’t turned on your smartphone security features, you make it very easy for them to access all of your confidential data.
Always make sure your phone is locked when you’re not using it. Both iOS and Android phones can be set to require a six-digit passcode, or there may be other options such as a pattern lock, fingerprints or even facial recognition.

Bear in mind that these methods are not 100% secure. The Daily Express recently reported that hackers took just ten days to bypass the iPhone X’s security features, which includes facial recognition software.

Also, pattern locks can also be easy to crack. By covertly filming you when you’re drawing your pattern lock shape to unlock your device, and using an algorithm to produce a small number of patterns, hackers can track your fingertip movements relative to the screen.

According to researchers from Lancaster University, Northwest University in China, and the University of Bath, an attack of this kind could easily be carried out in a busy cafe or restaurant. Researchers tested the attack on 120 unique patterns from 215 users, and found that they were able to crack more than 95% of patterns within five attempts.

Make sure also that if you’re using a fingerprint sensor, you keep your phone’s screen cleaned as finger traces can be used.

While these measures are not 100% secure, they will undoubtedly deter all but the most persistent hackers.

One final thing – beware of ‘smart unlock’ features, which automatically unlock your phone when you’re at home, or at work. These could let a thief bypass your unlock code altogether.

Install a security app

Smartphones are essentially a small computer and so are vulnerable to the same malware links, viruses, infected apps and unknown websites as your PC or laptop.

However, what this means is that you can use some of the same safety measures. You can download and install antivirus apps to help protect your phone from these threats.

Some services will require you to pay a yearly subscription, but keeping your phone protected with an antivirus app can help to keep it secure.
Install software updates

One way to help protect yourself against hackers is to install software updates on your phone as soon as they become available.

Updating can be a time-consuming process, and it sometimes updates other apps in ways that you’d rather avoid. However, lots of hacks exploit vulnerabilities that have already been patched and so keeping your software updates will help you to stay safe.

Maryam Mehrnezhad from Newcastle University says: “Sometimes mobile users install multiple apps and keep them on their devices. You need to uninstall the apps that you no longer need.

“Security patches are being constantly released by the vendors. You should keep your phone operating system and apps up to date… And last, but not least, now and then audit the permissions that apps have on your phone via the system settings.”

Don’t install apps from untrusted sources

Many apps ask for permission to access your camera, listen to your microphone, or to access your files or data. To stay secure, only download apps from trusted sources otherwise you could find rogue apps are accessing your information without your knowledge.

This can be a particular issue for Android users as Google’s app-vetting process is not as strict as Apple’s.

Make sure you download from trusted sources, such as the Google Play or App Store, rather than potentially untrustworthy websites.

Be ready to remotely lock and erase your phone

One of the concerns when you lose your phone or have it stolen is that someone else can access all of your data.

So, to stay secure, you have to be prepared to remotely lock or erase your phone if you are separated from it.

Both Android and Apple offer ‘find my device’ services that let you track your phone and remotely lock/erase it. Doing this ensures a thief or hacker can’t access your private data.

Close your apps

If you’re not using your phone, then get into the habit of closing your background apps and browser windows.

If you don’t, it’s easier for someone to take your phone and access information simply by looking at your recently visited websites and apps.

Security expert Mehrnezhad adds: “People can be lazy in closing their background apps and browser windows. You should close them when you are not using them.”