Not only have smartphones increased in popularity, but now most are as powerful and functional as computers. Unfortunately, like computers, phones are also susceptible to security threats. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports that mobile cybersecurity threats are increasing each year, and that is it very important for consumers to safeguard their smartphones just like they would protect their computers. The FCC launched the ‘Smartphone Security Checker’ in December 2012 to help arm consumers with security steps customized to their mobile operating systems. This online tool is a result of a public-private partnership between government experts, smartphone developers, and private IT and security companies. The Smartphone Security Check is available online at: www.fcc.gov/smartphone-security. There are ten general tips to help secure smartphones from invasion below:
General Tips for Smartphone Security
Create PINs and passwords. To prevent unauthorized access to smartphones, users can set a password or Personal Identification Number (PIN) on the phone’s home screen in case the phone is lost or stolen. Using different passwords for each important log-in, including email accounts, banking profiles, personal sites, etc. is recommended to keep hackers at bay. Consumers should configure their phones to automatically lock after five minutes or less when the phone is idle, as well as use the SIM password capability which is available on most smartphones.
Do not alter the smartphone’s security settings. Consumers should refrain from changing their security settings for their convenience. Tampering with a phone’s factory settings, “jailbreaking,” or rooting a phone undermines the built-in security features offered by the wireless service provider and smartphone. These actions also make the phone more susceptible to a cybersecurity attack.
Backup and secure data often. Consumers should backup all of the data stored on their phone, such as contacts, photos, calendars, documents, etc. Files such as these can be stored on home computers, removable storage devices, or on online storage platforms like Google Cloud Storage. Backing up information allows consumers to easily restore their information to their phone or a new phone if it is lost, stolen, or otherwise erased.
Only install apps from trusted sources. Before downloading an application, otherwise known as “apps,” research the application to ensure its legitimacy. Research might include checking reviews of the specific app or even confirming the validity of the app store it came from, as well as comparing the app sponsor’s official website with the app store link to ensure its reliability. Many apps from untrusted sources contain malware that can steal information, install viruses, or cause harm to a phone’s content once the app is installed.
Install security apps that enable remote location and wiping. An important security feature widely available on smartphones is the ability to remotely locate and erase all of the data stored on the phone, even if the phone’s GPS is off, which can help protect consumers if their phones are stolen or lost. Some applications can activate a loud alarm, even if the phone is on ‘silent’ to help locate it if it’s been misplaced. Visit CTIA, an international nonprofit membership organization representing the wireless communications industry, for a full list of anti-theft protection apps.
Accept updates and patches to smartphone software. Consumers can greatly reduce the risk of exposure to a security breech by keeping their phone’s operating system software up to date by enabling automatic updates or accepting updates when prompted from their service provider, operating system provider, device manufacturer, or application provider.
Use open Wi-Fi networks wisely. Phones can become easy targets for cybercriminals when accessing a public Wi-Fi network. Limiting the use of public hotspots and using a protected Wi-Fi from a trusted network operator or mobile wireless connection reduces the risk of exposure, especially when accessing personal or sensitive information. Always be aware when clicking web links and be particularly cautious if asked to enter account or log-in information.
Delete data on old phones before donating, reselling, or recycling. Smartphones contain personal information that should be kept private when the user disposes of the phone. In order to protect that privacy, completely erase data off of the phone and reset the phone to its initial factory settings otherwise known as ‘wiping’ the phone. Remember to back up your information to a computer, removable storage device, or online platform before wiping the phone. Consumers can donate, resell, or recycle their phones through their wireless carrier, manufacturer, or a third party organization. For a list of CTIA Member Consumer Recycling Programs click here.
Report stolen smartphones. The major wireless service providers, in coordination with the FCC, have established a stolen phone database. Consumers should report phone theft to local law enforcement authorities and then register the stolen phone with their wireless provider. This will notify all the major wireless service providers that the phone has been stolen and will allow for remote ‘bricking’ of the phone so that it cannot be activated on any wireless network without your permission.
For more information and resources on mobile and cybersecurity, visit The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Homeland Security’s Stop.Think.Connect. ™ Campaign.