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It’s Time to Get Serious About Smartphone Security

A recent survey by security solutions provider TRUSTe found that 66 percent of smartphone owners are now either more concerned or just as concerned with privacy issues on their mobile devices as they are on their computers. And with good reason. Providing a gateway to everything from e-mail to multiple social networks to private banking information, smartphones and tablets contain a treasure trove of personal information that could prove devastating if it fell in to the wrong hands.

Unfortunately, mobile devices are vulnerable in several ways that laptops and desktops are not. First, they are more easily lost or stolen, resulting in anything from inconvenience to outright panic, depending on how much data has been lost along with the device. Second, mobile devices rarely have the spam filters or malware firewalls that regular computers do, meaning it’s far easier to click on malicious links.

Next, smartphones are programmed to constantly search out Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections, making them easily accessible by rogue networks. Finally, we are constantly downloading apps, often without regard for where those apps come from and what permissions are required.

Given all these vulnerabilities, it’s not surprising that mobile devices are seen as the next frontier in the battle against cybercrime. However, all is not lost. There are a few simple steps that we can take to dramatically increase the odds that our personal information remains safe, or is at least recoverable in the event of a data breach.

Utilize password protection

Treat your phone like a wallet and never leave it unattended in public places. Utilize whatever protection is available to lock your phone when it’s not in use, whether it’s fingerprint technology, a retina scan, or a straightforward password. Most newer phones incorporate features that will allow you to lock a phone if it is misplaced or stolen. Make sure you are familiar with the software and activate monitoring apps before they are required.

Keep your OS updated

Install operating system updates whenever they become available. Most OS releases will contain new security features and patches to correct earlier flaws. Don’t wait until you buy a new phone to take advantage of these regular updates.

Avoid suspicious links or web sites

As stated above, mobile devices don’t have all the filters or safeguards that are usually present on laptops or desktops. This makes them more vulnerable to phishing attacks and other malware. Avoid clicking on suspicious links or visiting unknown web sites, and never open e-mail attachments unless you know they are from a trusted source.

Be selective when installing apps

Be cautious about installing apps, particularly free apps from developers you have never heard of. Check the reviews and the required permissions. Many apps will ask for location and network access, so they can deliver mobile ads. Think carefully before you grant permissions to third-party developers and consider whether the app is truly necessary.

Do not store PINs or passwords

Many smartphone owners store PINs and password in Contacts or Notes, making themselves even more vulnerable in the event of a lost or stolen device. Keep passwords in a separate place. If you utilize a lot of mobile shopping apps, consider using a unique credit card in order to isolate those transactions from the rest of your financial activities.

Avoid using open Wi-Fi networks

Although it’s very tempting to jump on any available Wi-Fi network to protect your monthly data allowance, you should avoid open, unprotected networks. If you have to transfer media or other large files, wait until later and use your secure home network.

Backup your data

All the popular operating systems offer a limited amount of free storage when you register an account, including iOS (iCloud), Android (Google Drive) and Windows Phone (OneDrive). This way, you can sync your information and data across several different devices and access it whenever and wherever you need it.

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