Mobile phones have changed our lives in ways that are nothing short of miraculous. But they’re also treasure troves of personal data, and crooks are just dying to get their mitts on them.
Think about everything you don’t want to share with a stranger—like passwords, account information, and medical data. Your photos and videos. Your address. According to a recent study by cybersecurity company Lookout, 41 percent of smart phone owners claim their mobile privacy savvy is above average or higher, but their actions speak otherwise. Millennials are particularly likely to fancy themselves privacy gurus, while simultaneously engaging in risky mobile behavior. Ah, kids today. I’ve partnered with Lookout on this post to share the riskiest mistakes people make with mobile phone security—and the best ways to avoid them.
Not using a password
This one seems like a no-brainer, but, shockingly, 2 in 5 smartphone owners don’t have a PIN or passcode set on their phone. Be sure to use at least a four-digit code, or, for extra peace of mind set a longer password. The way to do this varies by model of phone, but is generally under the “settings” section. Some phones will scan your fingerprint instead of an alphanumerical code. However, security experts like to remind us that you can always reset a password if you need to; you can’t change your fingerprint.
Trusting public Wi-Fi
Fraudsters can easily create an open Wi-Fi network that has a similar name to that of a coffee shop, and capture private data from the people who unwittingly use it. If you must use open Wi-Fi, browse the Internet only, and make sure the sites you visit display in the search bar with “https.” Don’t make purchases, or sign into bank and credit card accounts—save those tasks for when you’re at home.
Leaving the phone vulnerable
Security software is easy to use, yet a lot of people seem more concerned with downloading games and Dubsmash. Install a security app like Lookout (free, for Android and iOS), to keep thieves at bay and to protect against malicious apps. Lookout automatically scans any apps you download to ensure they’re safe, and also backs up all your data. If Mr. Sticky Fingers is repeatedly entering the wrong password into your smart phone or trying to remove its SIM card, Lookout’s latest feature, Theft Alerts, [highlight] uses the phone’s camera to silently take a “theftie,” [/highlight] a snapshot from the front-facing camera, then emails you a photo of the crook, along with info on the phone’s location. Take that, bad guys!
Downloading any old app
Only download apps from official, trustworthy app stores (like the Apple App Store or Google Play Store). Check an app’s rating and read the reviews to make sure it’s widely used and respected before you take any action.
Using sketchy charging stations
The public charging stations at airports and malls are usually safe—until they’re not. They can be configured to download data from your phone or to add malware. Solution? Always power your phone off completely before you start charging it in public. Or better yet, bring your own portable charger.
Forgetting to back up data
Consumer Reports estimates 7.1 million Americans have had a cell phone lost or stolen, so it can easily happen to you. Back up your smart phone at least once a week, and more frequently if you travel a lot.
Sharing your location
Your phone uses a combination of cellular, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS networks to pinpoint its location at all times. This comes in handy for finding a nearby hamburger joint or using Google Maps, but it also means that your location data is accessible to anyone with your phone and the wrong intentions. If the idea of someone being able to track where you live, work and play is disturbing to you for whatever reason, disable your phone’s location services.
Inviting thieves over
Don’t announce, “I’m not home!” on Facebook and Twitter. Time Magazine estimates that 78 percent of burglars use social media to choose the location of their next victim, so avoid real-time posts about vacations. If you’re dying to share that photo of Yosemite or a giant margarita, email it to a select few, rather than broadcasting it via social media. Set your Facebook privacy setting so that you can review tagged posts from friends and relatives before they go up on your timeline. Once you’re back home, have at it! Share your pics, blog about your fabulous vacation, and post to Instagram. Just use the hashtag “#latergram” to indicate that your photos are post-dated.
It’s way better to be safe than sorry, so don’t wait until you’ve lost a smart phone—or control over your essential personal information—before you start taking mobile phone security seriously.
Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Lookout. We received compensation to share a review of this product. All opinions and thoughts about the product are our own. Thank you for supporting our sponsors! These partnerships make it possible for us to continue to produce quality content on our website.
Photo credit: Noe