A guest post by Eva Velasquez, CEO, Identity Theft Resource Center
The US patent for the telephone just celebrated its 141st birthday, but the device most people know of today looks nothing like its famous ancestor. Phones have evolved to include first a dial, then a keypad, then a keyboard, and now, nothing of the kind as touchscreens have reigned supreme. The phones of yesteryear only connected to a central operator hub, while today’s smartphones can call anywhere in the world, send text messages, surf the internet, and control countless apps.
One of the main security flaws with smartphones is simply that users might not understand their devices’ own vulnerabilities. More than just a phone, a smartphone is a handheld computer that can be the same kind of open door to scams, fraud, and identity theft that a desktop PC can be. It’s portable and therefore “losable,” but is also susceptible to viruses and hacking.
In order to secure your smartphone against intruders, there are some key takeaways that all users must be aware of:
- Physical security – In the wrong hands, your smartphone can be the gateway to your entire identity. The very apps that make a smartphone such a convenient time-saver can also lead a criminal directly to your email account, your social media accounts, even your banking and credit card accounts. That’s why it’s necessary that you deploy the built-in passcode feature, locking up your phone against anyone who doesn’t know the code.You may also choose to engage apps that can track your smartphone in case it’s lost, or even “brick” your device if you have reason to believe it’s actually gone. That way, even if a thief gets their hands on it, the information inside the device will be permanently locked up.
- App Security – One of the best things about smartphones is how they are fully customizable, to the point that no two devices are the same. The power of these devices is in their apps, which users select and download for themselves. Unfortunately, those apps can be fraught with problems, such as broad-sweeping permissions, the ability to track locations, accessing the user’s address book, or even carrying hidden viruses inside the code.In order to safely use your smartphone, it’s important to know how each of your apps functions and what permissions it requires. When in doubt, set your permission levels to the strictest settings, such as revoking access to the device’s GPS or microphone. You can always grant these permissions later if the functionality of the app is limited without them.
- Who’s On The Other End? – Finally, one of the most important factors to consider when using a smartphone is that you sometimes cannot know who’s on the other end. Whether it’s phone scams, text message scams, viruses that are downloaded from images or links, or dozens of other ways that you can be put at risk, remember that your smartphone can be the source.It’s important to have antivirus software downloaded on your device, run routine checkups to make sure your apps are up-to-date, make sure your passwords and passcode are strong and changed regularly, and that your sensitive apps aren’t left logged in when you don’t need them.
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