10 Steps to Secure Your SmartphoneImagine for a minute what would happen if you lost your smartphone or if someone stole it from you.  I can feel your heart skipping a beat right now.  I’m sure you would rather lose your wallet than your phone, right?

What type of sensitive information is on your phone?  Contacts, logins, passwords, bank account numbers, PINs,… hmm, we just don’t realize how, over the past few years, our mobile devices have become an extension of our personal computers. What used to be just a “cell phone” with only a few speed-dial phone numbers from our friends and family, has now become our most critical personal electronic device storing the most important information from our everyday work and lifestyle.

According to a nationwide survey conducted by Consumer Reports, about 34% of people with smartphones do not even have a security code set up for their mobile device. No wonder many accounts were hacked when a mobile phone is stolen or simply got lost. If a device has no password, anybody who gets hold of it can have direct access to all your personal accounts.

Some smartphone users set a 4-digit security code to lock their phone.  Based on the survey, about 36% of the respondents do this. While it is better to have this than nothing at all, the best security code should be composed of at least 8 digits, which is a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.

Consumer Reports further noted that smartphone users usually don’t have software that can track a phone if it gets lost, any antivirus app, software that can remove data on the phone, and security features like encryption.  Mostly, they use only the basic 4-digit codes. This is not surprising at all. Many people don’t see the need to have security for their mobile device, which is very irresponsible knowing the kinds of information stored on their phones is more than likely to include contacts, passwords, PINs, credit card and bank account numbers. Once their phone is lost or stolen, disaster strikes fast.

What you need to realize is that your beloved smartphone that allows you to manage your life’s everyday activities while ‘on the go’ is also the most coveted piece of property by cyber-criminals. They too know that you’re likely to have all of your personal information stored on your phone and they are very interested in getting it from you. 

Your smartphone acts very much like your personal computer these days and it is subject to hackers and malware attacks every day.  Android devices in particular, are more vulnerable to malware; this is the same type of virus and malicious software that you have learned over the years how it can inflict damage to your computer, except that now, it is targeting your mobile device too.

If your device is infected, everything you do on your smartphone can be recorded by a malware virus: your user names, passwords, websites you visited, text messages or emails that you send and receive – all of these can be recorded. See how important it is that you really protect your mobile phones with anti-spyware, antivirus, and other security software?

Here are a few things that you can do to secure your mobile device.

  1. Set your phone to lock after a minute or less of inactivity.
  2. Set up a strong alpha numeric password to unlock your phone.  A four digit PIN is fine, but definitely not as strong as an alpha-numeric password that uses a combination of upper/lower case letters and numbers.
  3. Even if your phone includes a Touch ID finger print reader, still add password protection as a secondary safeguard.
  4. Set your phone to erase your data after more than 10 failed attempts to enter the password.  Ten attempts are enough for you to get it right but not enough for a thief that is trying to guess your log in.
  5. Whenever you receive notifications, update the OS, apps, and programs. Included in these updates are security enhancements as well as patches for vulnerabilities.
  6. Use the “Find my Phone” type app that enables you to locate your phone when it’s stolen or lost so you can erase all the data even if it’s remote.  Android, iPhone and Windows Phones have specific apps for this particular purpose.
  7. Stick only with the trusted app stores. Though it won’t guarantee that you’re downloading totally clean software, it will definitely reduce the risk.
  8. Do not click the links in any suspicious email or text message on your mobile device.
  9. Yes, there are still a lot of honest people in the world.  Chances are, if you forget your phone at your favorite coffee shop, some honest citizen my find it and be willing to return it to you.  If you add a small sticky note to the back of your phone or case with your email address and work number, you will make this task much easier and the “lost phone” story will have a happy ending.
  10. Record your phone’s unique serial number.  You may still have the original box, but if not, be sure to record your serial number known as IMEI (International Mobile Station Equipment Identity) or MEID (Mobile Equipment Identifier).   These serial numbers are etched to the phone’s internal circuits and are difficult to erase.  Your service provider already has this number on file and some police departments may ask you for it to return your phone to you if it is found.  If you can’t find your unique ID number, you can also get it by dialing *#06# (so save this article!)

Based on Consumer Reports estimates, over 4 million smartphones were lost or stolen and never recovered last year. If you ever lose your phone, immediately change all your accounts’ passwords and PINs from your desktop computer through a secure connection. Inform your financial institution as well as credit card companies about this situation and then file a police report.  You will need this in order to back up any possible dispute and irregularity on your debit and credit card accounts.

Finally, if you’re lucky to have lost your phone for a few days and actually recover it later either from the police or any other source, I would recommend that you wipe away all information and reset it to factory settings before you load your information back up.  You never know what type of malicious virus or spyware may have been installed on your phone while it was out of your hands.

I hope this information is useful for you, but especially, I hope that your smartphone is never lost or stolen!  Be cautious and be safe.

Until next time, this is Manuel Gil del Real (MGR)