Lock Down Your Smartphone to Prevent Data Breaches


Your phone is essentially a one-stop shop for your data and, if stolen or exposed to identity thieves, can compromise your identity and financial accounts. People are using smartphones for more of their digital needs, but even if you don’t use mobile banking or financial apps, your phone could store sensitive data from online shopping, social networking, games and more. An unsecured phone poses a major security risk that makes you vulnerable everywhere you go.

Here’s a quick checklist of how to protect your data from identity thieves by securing your mobile phone:

1. Password-protect your phone.

A password locks your phone, so that anyone who picks it up can’t just rummage around in your mobile life. Use a complex and unique password, beyond just numbers if possible. A good password mixes letters, numbers, punctuation and special characters. Use unexpected transformations. “Dollars” is a very easy password to crack, but so are the common variations “Doll@rs” and “Doll@r$.” Instead, try inserting a random character in a less predictable way to get something such as “D[]//@r$” or “D{}LL@r$” for increased security. As an alternative, your fingerprint may be sufficient to protect your phone – if it has a fingerprint sensor and if you don’t mind the invasiveness of a phone company having a unique identifier for you.

2. Set your phone to auto-lock.

Auto-lock means that your phone will automatically require a password for you to re-enter after a certain amount of time. This feature is important, especially in public places where phones that look alike can be accidentally swapped. You can set the auto-lock time by going into your phone settings and choosing anywhere from immediately up to several minutes, even hours.

3. Saving passwords isn’t smart.

Make sure any mobile banking or financial apps have passwords that are not automatically saved on your phone. It may be convenient, but it’s also potentially dangerous.

4. Turn off GPS, Bluetooth and wireless features.

When you’re not using them, of course. Not only do they drain the battery life, but thieves can pair their Bluetooth device with yours to hack personal information or even track you.

5. Be careful on Wi-Fi networks.

Wi-Fi is another channel for thieves to remotely access your data undetected. Only connect your phone to secure networks with passwords, especially in public places that offer free Wi-Fi. Even if you are using Wi-Fi for browsing and not for shopping, banking or anything else that requires passwords or account data, on a public, open-source network, your personal information can be exposed unwittingly.

6. Download with discretion.

Before downloading any apps to your phone, always do a quick search to make sure they come from a legitimate site or publisher. Check user reviews for any complaints.

7. To move forward, back up.

If you have photos, videos, music, emails, contacts or any other information that you want to make sure you can access if your smartphone if ever hacked, lost or stolen, then make sure they are all backed up on a computer, USB drive or cloud storage service. It’s always a good idea to make backup copies. Quick: Think of your best friend. Do you know his/her phone number? While some information can be replaced, it can turn out to be more of a hassle than you bargained for, and some items may be irreplaceable.

8. Enable a service with remote tracking.

This is a service that exists on most phones. In the event your phone is stolen, you can remotely lock your phone and even erase its data while the GPS tracks its movement in a criminal’s hands. You can even set your phone to automatically wipe your data if your phone password is entered incorrectly several times. Of course, a full reset would be a last resort to protect personal information, and hopefully you remembered to back up your data.

Did you know?

If you are changing or upgrading smartphones, then make sure that all of your personal information and content is erased from your old phone after you have uploaded it into your new one. Many phones have built-in reset features that will restore all settings to their defaults.