May 12, 2014 Leave a comment
Our smartphones today make the computers of yesteryear look like children’s toys.
Their average processing power, storage capacity, functionality, and (of course) portability would astonish early computer developers. From Angry Birds to Instagram, to Gmail and Skype, our phones do it all these days.
The advent of online banking in the mid 1990’s took the logical leap to our mobile devices as well. Who wouldn’t want the convenience of checking their balance or paying a bill from the palm of their hand?
However, as with any new technology there arises the potential for abuse. Many of the same techniques used by hackers and cyber-criminals to steal information from your personal computer are being used to do the same to your smartphone. Thankfully, just as there are many ways to safeguard your home computer, your smartphone has a great deal of options for security too:
- Use Passwords/PINs. All of the major smartphone operating systems offer the option to lock your phone until you put in a PIN, a gesture combination, or some form of password. This option should be one of the first things that you do once your new phone has been activated. Make sure that the PIN you choose is not something easy to guess. 1234 for example is a pretty common choice. Also make sure that you do not choose a PIN or gesture combination just because it is easy to input. Many people will choose one that is easy to input in a flash. These gestures are easy to guess as well because of their ease-of-use.
- Set Your Phone to “Time-Out” Sooner. The number one battery drain on our smartphones these days are our ultra-sharp, pixel dense, high-definition screens. So by setting your phone’s screen to time-out after a minute or so of inactivity is a smart move for saving your battery life, but it also has added security benefits. Should you set your phone down and walk off without it (an all too common occurrence) anyone who happens upon it will have access to your phone’s contents. However, if you set your phone’s screen to time-out after a minute or so of inactivity, and have activated a password feature on your phone (see above) then anyone picking up your phone will need to have the password to access it. Some of you may think it is such as hassle to have to slide your screen open every time you get a text, but think of the hassle it will be to have to reclaim your credit score from fraudulent charges because someone stole your phone and was able to easily access your information. Which seems worse?
- Find My Phone. One great way to safeguard your smartphone’s data is to never let it out of your sight, but how realistic is that? As mentioned above, the frequency with which people will set down their phones and walk off without them is astounding. (Just ask any waiter or bartender.) Thankfully smartphones today come equipped with the latest and greatest bells and whistles, like GPS. Using the functionality already found on your smartphone you can easily locate your phone should it be misplaced or stolen. iPhones use the app Find My Phone; while Android phones have many options in the Google Play Store, the app Where’s My Droid seems to be the most popular; Windows Phone is perhaps the simplest of all since it requires no app to download and no setting to turn on, just go to this page on WindowsPhone.com and follow the instructions.
- Update. Update. Update. Keep your phone up-to-date by installing your operating system and app updates, as well as your phone manufacturer’s firmware updates. When a loophole or security breach is discovered in an app or your phone’s OS, the fix is sent out in the form of an update. Make checking your phone for updates part of your daily routine. It only takes a few moments, and that is a lot less than you could spend if your personal information gets hijacked.
- Consider Antivirus Apps. Well known antivirus makers like AVG, McAfee, Symantec, and more have made their antivirus software in app form for your mobile devices. There are free ones, paid ones, some might even come bundled with the antivirus software you purchased for your desktop. If you think of your smartphone as a tiny, handheld computer (which it is) then you realize that antivirus apps make a lot of sense.
- Be Wary of Open WiFi Networks. Free WiFi is like a godsend if you don’t have an unlimited data plan or if you’re in an area with poor cell reception. How else are you going to share your beautifully cropped, eloquently filtered piece of art that was the cappuccino and Panini you had for lunch? Seriously, I’d like to know because I’ve been there. Well, an unfamiliar WiFi network is a prime way for an unscrupulous individual to grab your data and information, or send some piece of malware your way. If you don’t know who is in control of the WiFi you are about to connect to then it’s probably best to just let it go until you get back to more familiar territory.
- Use Bluetooth with Caution. Like WiFi, open Bluetooth connections are a great way for hackers and identity thieves to grab control of your device and its data. This even has its own fun-sounding name: bluesnarfing. However there is nothing fun about what this entails. By connecting to your device’s Bluetooth connection, one is able to retrieve information from your phone or send harmful programs to it. Thankfully today’s Bluetooth protocols have made this more and more difficult for people to pull off but that doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. Simply turning off your Bluetooth connection when you’re not using your Bluetooth-enabled headset or other devices will help minimize this risk.
Our smartphones are amazing things. The handheld communicators of Star Trek are in our pockets and purses today, but they do so much more!
With a plethora of apps it’s easy to carry your virtual life in your phone. To paraphrase Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben: “With great convenience comes great responsibility.” Using your smartphone to do your banking is a perfect way to save time and energy, just be certain that you take the proper precautions.
Now excuse me, today’s the day I finally get past level 147 on Candy Crush Saga.
Have you ever used your smartphone for banking or to make purchase? If you have any extra security tips to share please do so in the comments below!