Mobile Security

Michael Kwan
Smartphone security

Smartphones are used for so much more than just making phone calls, encapsulating so much of a person's identity in a device that easily slips into a pants pocket. From online banking to family photos, personal e-mails and text messages to social media login information, a smartphone is a veritable treasure trove of private data. To make sure that your data stays safe, you should be mindful of mobile security measures.

Protecting Against Viruses

Just as there are anti-virus and anti-malware protection programs available for computers, similar programs are available as smartphone apps. In reality, a smartphone is a computer just as much as a laptop or desktop PC might be. It has an operating system, runs programs and connects to the Internet, leaving it vulnerable to all sorts of malicious attacks.

The majority of mobile antivirus apps available today have been designed for the Google Android platform, compatible with both smartphones and tablets running on the popular mobile operating system. These apps are generally available through the Google Play Store and some are offered with a premium subscription for additional features. Avast and Kapersky are two of the more popular options.

Unfortunately, there are not as many antivirus programs available for iPhone or for Windows Phone. However, these platforms are not necessarily any less vulnerable to infection. As a result, taking other precautionary measures is even more important with these devices.

The Possibility of Identity Theft

In addition to the risk of having personal photographs and other personal data, like contact information from your phone's address book, stolen by criminals who may 'leak' this information on the Internet or use it for other nefarious purposes, one of the greatest risks in mobile security is the possibility of identity theft.

Once someone gains unauthorized access to your e-mail account, for instance, he or she may be able to reset your password on nearly every online service connected with that e-mail address. This can include online banking, social media profiles, cloud storage services and more. It is important to note that a thief may not even need physical access to your smartphone in order to 'hack' into your private data.

The precautions you may take to protect yourself against mobile malware can also protect against identity theft.

Mobile Security Precautions

Viruses, malware, data theft and identity theft are among the many possible threats to mobile security. Hackers may gain unauthorized access to your geolocation information, steal contact lists, take over your device, and spoof your phone number to send text messages, among other frightening scenarios.

It is prudent to take steps to boost the security of your mobile device and minimize the possibility that your smartphone may be compromised. Key precautions include:

  • Use a lock screen password. Smartphones usually provide several options for how to secure your device at the lock screen level. While using a pattern may be more convenient, a numerical passcode is more secure. Newer smartphones may also have fingerprint readers.
  • Utilize in-app passwords where available. Certain apps, particularly mobile banking apps, provide the option for a password in addition to the lock screen password. Someone who gains possession of your device would need to enter both the lock screen password and the app-specific password to gain access to your account or data.
  • Encrypt your device. Many smartphones have the option to encrypt the internal data. This feature can typically be found under the 'security' sub-section of the settings menu.
  • Avoid unsecure Wi-Fi access points: The free Wi-Fi offered at coffee shops and public spaces may be convenient, but may not be safe. Criminals may use these Wi-Fi networks to hack into connected devices, including your smartphone. Only use access points you trust and that you are know are secured.
  • Do not click on potentially suspicious links, such as links in unexpected text messages.
  • Do not install unsigned apps or apps from less reputable publishers.
  • Never send credit card, banking or login information via text message, e-mail or other messaging service. These messages run the risk of being intercepted.
  • Disable NFC and Bluetooth when not in use. Strangers in the area may be able to use these wireless technologies to tap into your device without your knowledge using specialized equipment.

Online Tools and Remote Data Wipe

In case your smartphone gets lost or stolen, there are official online tools available that allow you to either locate your device or to wipe its data remotely.

iPhone (iOS)

After configuring your iPhone to work with the iCloud service, you gain access to three very important security features.

  1. Find My iPhone: This can locate a lost or stolen iPhone as long as it still has an Internet connection.
  2. Play Sound: This will cause the iPhone to emit a sound to help locate the iPhone if it is in the vicinity.
  3. Erase iPhone: This allows you to wipe the data off your iPhone remotely. You will need your Apple ID password.

Google Android

Similar to the iCloud security measures offered to iPhone users, Android users have access to the Android Device Manager. Four main features are associated with this web-based tool.

  1. Last Known Location: This can be accurate within a few feet. It includes information about when the location data was retrieved and the last time the phone was known to be online.
  2. Ring: Causes the smartphone to ring even if it is set to silent mode.
  3. Lock: Remotely locks and resets the device password.
  4. Erase: Erases all data on the device.

Windows Phone

The Microsoft online device manager functions similarly to the tools provided to iOS and Android users.

  1. Find My Phone: After signing in to your Microsoft account through the web-based tool, choose the phone from your account and click on Find My Phone. An interactive map will be generated.
  2. Ring or Lock: After using the Find My Phone function, you can optionally click on the Ring or Lock links. Ring causes the phone to ring even if it is set to silent, whereas Lock will place a message on the phone's lock screen and require a password to be unlocked.
  3. Erase: To remotely delete the data on your phone, click Erase and then select 'I'm ready to erase my phone' to proceed. This is irreversible.

Has Your Phone Been Compromised?

Oftentimes, it can be difficult to tell if your smartphone has already been compromised by rogue software, if it has been infected by a virus or malware, or if someone has gained unauthorized access to your private data. While there may sometimes be suspicious activity as a telltale sign, this may not be the case in many situations.

Added measures to bolster your smartphone's security may come at the price of reduced convenience, but dealing with identity theft and other issues is decidedly much more problematic and is worth the effort to avoid.

Mobile Security