How many electronic devices do you carry with you when you’re out and about? You might have a laptop, personal or professional. You might have some kind of games console, like a Nintendo Switch. You might have a dedicated music player, or a fitness tracker — and we’re still leaving out the device you’ll almost-certainly have: your smartphone.
These gadgets bring so much functionality and versatility to the table that we’ve come to rely on them to manage and support our entire lives. We use them so much (and see others use theirs so much) that we’re used to largely treating them as fixtures. But being so cavalier with them is highly-inadvisable and can lead to some major problems. You must always keep security in mind when using your mobile devices — and I’ll explain specifically why:
We often store important private data on our devices
The first thing that has to be noted is how much data we store on our mobile devices. Photos from throughout our lives. Audio recordings of events we’ve attended. And then there are all our private messages with myriad people, encompassing coworkers, friends, and loved ones.
Many of those things are now backed-up through cloud storage, meaning that losing a given device won’t result in any permanent loss of data — but what if someone grabs it while you’re out? If you only have a swipe unlock (more common than you might think), then any thief could instantly access everything about you. And if you use a pattern unlock, they could protect the screen smudges to have a chance at figuring it out.
As such, use biometrics and/or complex passwords to protect your devices as much as you can, and know what the options are for retrieving your data and blocking stolen devices so you won’t be left in the lurch in the (albeit unlikely) event that you have something stolen.
Smartphones can be hacked over insecure Wi-Fi networks
Using free public Wi-Fi is something that most people like to do, because who doesn’t enjoy getting something for free? Whether you’re at a restaurant or visiting a landmark, being able to get free internet access is comforting. It means you can browse the web as much as you like without impacting your mobile data allowance (and that your mobile signal doesn’t matter).
Unfortunately, many free Wi-Fi access points lack decent security, and that’s understandable because simply allowing any and all devices to connect makes them somewhat vulnerable. While connected to such a network, any of your devices could be hacked: infected with malware, spammed with messages, or searched for data.
If you want to use free Wi-Fi, then, use a VPN — virtual private network — that will protect everything you send and receive. You can even find a free VPN that will get the job done: here are some. This won’t protect you completely, though, so watch out for anything peculiar.
Modern payment makes stolen smartphones more dangerous
I mentioned all the data we have stored on our phones, but we also store data that’s necessary for getting things done. Passwords to all the websites we regularly visit and even our bank logins, for instance, and payment details for our credit/debit cards and digital wallets. Now imagine what someone could do with that data.
This bears noting because it takes time for a thief to decide what data might be useful, and they often might choose to simply wipe a device and sell it on — but it takes no time at all to test a contactless payment with an unlocked device and see what happens. And if someone has access to your smartphone and discovers that they can buy things with it, there’s an excellent chance that they’ll buy everything they can until the payment process is disabled.
Be ready to call your bank (or banks) and let them know to put a freeze on your account while you get things figured out. In general, though, you should only use contactless payment if you have something like fingerprint-based authentication, which is why many phone manufacturers actually require that to enable it.
Mobile electronic devices — mainly your smartphone, of course — are incredibly powerful and useful, and that puts them at risk. With so much personal data involved, you need to be mindful in two particular scenarios: connecting to unfamiliar networks, and using your devices in busy places where thieves could abound.
Photograph by Pixelcreatures