When you think of your smartphone and words that you might associate with it, “secure” probably isn’t the first, second, or even third term that you would use to describe it; yet, when it comes to privacy and personal security in our lives, it’s probably one of the most important things we desire. Knowing that very personal information about ourselves is secure and safe from harm would be ideal, but in today’s age, and especially with smartphones, security and privacy are at an all-time low.
Our phones know a lot about us, and in many cases know more about us than even we do. They can track and remember where we’ve been, they can store credit card and bank account information, they can store our web searches, know who we’re friends with, and have access to our e-mails, phone logs, and messages. Although most of this information is kept stored in these handheld wonders, our phones are also connected to the vast world we know as the Internet, the cloud, and servers that belong to people other than ourselves. This information is not shared with just us.
It’s important for many of us to have this information at our fingertips, but how can we stop these other companies from being able to access this information?
Although information on your smartphone will likely never be 100% private (you’ll need trusted companies for help to access the information in the first place) there are ways that we can prevent unknown parties from being able to access it. Yes, there is the off chance that some person on the street is going to rip your phone right out of your hands and bugger off with it, but an even bigger threat is going to be the third party app developers whose agreements we tend to easily overlook when downloading a new application - or malicious people trying to breach the security behind an app to get information that they may have gathered for otherwise innocent reasons.
Regardless, there are extra steps we can take to help ensure the security of our private information.
Having a passcode on your phone is a great start to protecting yourself, particularly from the people who want to physically take your phone. Whether you use a PIN number, a pattern lock, fingerprint sensor, or face detection, any form of password security can help protect your information from getting into the wrong hands. It’s certainly more helpful than giving somebody access to your phone without any type of password - it’s like handing your information over without a second thought. Even if you feel like it’s a hassle or you have no real reason to have a passcode on your phone, should you find yourself in a situation where your phone goes missing you’ll probably be wishing you had set up a password previously.
You’ll also want to sign up with a remote access program or app, like Find My iPhone, Android Device Manager, Find My Phone for Windows Phone, or BlackBerry Protect. These are all apps and services that come with the phone, so you don’t have to worry about sketchy third party apps. However, if these don’t tickle your fancy, there are a number of third party apps that you can trust as well.
But before you do that, we should take a look at step 2.
It can be tempting to find an app you want and download it without a second thought. Even apps that you would never think would need to access certain areas of your phone (music streaming or games needing access to contacts, etc.) might be asking for those permissions - and if you’re in a big enough hurry, you just accept it so you can use the application. Regardless of whether the app ever actually utilizes that information (to your knowledge) or not is irrelevant; they have access to your stuff now, and who knows what they could be doing with it. Just make sure to read through your app permissions and make sure you know what all you are granting access to. Remember, they can’t get access if you don’t okay it first.
Aside from being able to save precious battery life, shutting down apps after you’re done using them is still an important step to take - especially if you’re the type to do online banking from your phone. If the app isn’t running, it’s a lot harder, if not impossible, for potential predators to gain access to sensitive log-in and account information from your phone.
Again, here’s a double bonus if you decide to follow this step: turning off or limiting access to location services can help save battery life and preserve a bit of privacy. You can generally set app permissions in your settings, and location is typically one of the things you can control on an individual level. For example, I only have my location services on when I have my GPS on and trying to find a location. As soon as I turn off the GPS, the location services turn off. I don’t allow any other apps to locate me, because I simply don’t need them to.
Even if you still need location services on for certain things, you’d be surprised to find some of the applications that have location services running in the background. If privacy is a concern, I suggest going through your apps and figuring out which ones use location services that don’t need to be doing so and turning them off.
Although I previously stated to be wary of apps you download (and you should be), it’s probably a safe bet that most of them aren’t going to be doing anything malicious and would like to ensure good customer service by trying to protect your privacy as much as possible. Keep an eye out for app updates, especially if you don’t have updates automatically set up, and check for updates details regarding security. Although some third party developers may be after your info, you could also go a level deeper and realize that there are malicious people trying to gain access to your information through them and they’re doing their best to prevent that. The best way of doing so is by continuously updating security measures through app updates.
Owning a smartphone can be a wonderful and somewhat frightening experience given how much faith we put in such a small (or large) electronic device, but we can have a little more peace of mind knowing that we’re taking a few extra precautionary steps to prevent potential malicious attacks.