As the adoption and use of smartphones and other mobile devices continues to increase in the U.S. and around the world, a growing number of people are falling victims to cases in which their privacy has been compromised in some way by a mobile hacker or cybercriminal.
As consumer demand for devices that offer a fast, reliable, and constant connection to the internet continues to increase, concerns are being raised over how to keep sensitive information safe on new smartphones, tablets, and other smart technology.
According to a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project survey, “among app users, 54% of iPhone owners and 56% of Android owners have avoided an app due to concerns about access to their personal information, while 28% of iPhone owners and 32% of Android owners have uninstalled an app for that reason.”
Another study on mobile privacy from TRUSTe Inc found that 66% of smartphone users are now either more concerned or just as concerned with privacy on their mobile as on their computer. This blog post will outline ways in which you can work to protect your privacy on your mobile devices.
How Are Smartphones Attacked?
Smartphones are attacked in two ways. The first way is through physical access (i.e. you lose your phone or someone steals it and it falls into the hands of a criminal). The second way smartphones are attacked is through public Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth.
In both cases, criminals have the opportunity to access sensitive, private information stored on your phone (or on accounts you’re logged into on your phone). So how can you protect your privacy on mobile? Here are a few tips:
Avoid Using Potentially Malicious Websites and Applications
When using your smartphone or mobile device, it’s important to be just as cautious as you are when you’re on your computer. This means being skeptical about potentially malicious websites and apps. If the app you want to download isn’t from a source you trust and know, you should spend some time doing research about the app before downloading it and installing it on your device. The website Privacyrights.org recommends the following when trying to determine if an app is safe to download:
- Look at how many people have downloaded the app you are interested in and what rankings they have given it.
- Ask yourself, “Is this app requesting access to only the data it needs to function?” If the answer is no, don’t download it.
Similarly, if you follow a link to a website and are taken to site that looks like it might be trouble, leave the site immediately. To be completely sure you have left the potentially malicious site, make sure you close the browser window and browser application, and spend time clearing your browser cookies and history. This can help you reduce the chance of unknowingly accepting any potentially malicious malware from the site.
Always Update Your Apps, Anti-Virus Software and Operating System
Again, just like you would on your computer, take time to update the operating system, anti-virus software and apps on your mobile device. Most trusted app developers are committed to ensuring that their apps are safe for users to use. This means that from time to time they will release updates to their apps that are aimed at improving or maintaining security. The operating system on your phone also needs to be updated regularly.
Disable GPS Location Sharing When You Aren’t Using It
Although many applications ask for permission to access or enable the GPS on your device, few applications actually need it order to actually provide the service they offer. Be cautious of which and how many apps you allow to track your location. According to Microsoft, “Many services—weather, movies, and maps, for example—personalize results by using location data from your phone’s Global Positioning System (GPS) or nearby Wi-Fi access points and cell towers.
Our phone’s camera can use GPS to automatically embed information about the spot where a photo was taken, called geotagging. Facebook and Twitter can also use GPS to geotag status messages and tweets posted from your phone. This can be a risk because you may not be able to control how that data is used and by whom.”To disable location services on your phone, follow the directions outlined here.
Only Connect To Trusted Wi-Fi Hotspots (and even then be cautious)
If the coffee shop or mall you are visiting doesn’t offer password-protected Wi-Fi, avoid connecting to it from your mobile device. Unprotected networks make it easier for hackers to gain access to your system. Many mobile privacy and security experts even recommend avoiding public Wi-Fi hotspots altogether because of how risky they can be.
If you do need to use public Wi-Fi however, using a VPN app is the best way to protect your privacy and secure your internet communications. VPN apps protect you by concealing your IP address and encrypting all the communications going in and out of your device.
Use Strong Passwords and Don’t Enable Automatic Logins (and remember to sign out)
In this day and age, people often trade security for convenience. Many people would rather set up auto logins for their favorite websites and apps than take the time to log into (or remember passwords for) sites or apps each time they want to use them. In order to effectively protect your privacy on mobile, you should avoid enabling automatic logins on social media sites, email, and any apps you use (banking, cloud storage apps, etc). You should also always remember to sign out of any website or app that requires you to login.
Do Your Research
According to the Truste Inc. report mentioned above, 76% of smartphone users believe that they are ultimately most responsible for protecting their privacy. It’s up to you to educate yourself on how to protect the private information stored on or accessible via your mobile devices. Following the recommendations outlined in this article is a good start, but you need to be proactive when it comes to protecting your most sensitive information and data from cybercriminals and hackers.