Metropolitan Police estimate that some 300 iPhones are stolen in London every day. If that number astounds you, consider this: that statistic only covers London and its immediate environs, and doesn’t account for thefts of other smartphones and phablets. Mobile phone theft is on the rise throughout the country, and there is a growing black market for stolen mobiles. But that market is hungry for more than just the latest in premium smartphone to be flogged on the street. The black market is also eager to gain access to the personal data which is stored on those devices. While police work to stem the tide of mobile phone thefts, it’s incumbent upon all of us to learn how to protect ourselves and our personal data. Fortunately, there are some simple tips to follow to keep your phone secure, and your personal data out of the hands of thieves.
1 Pins and Passwords
Simple PIN numbers are easy to remember, but they are also extremely easy for thieves to guess. Avoid simple PINs, and try to choose something random and complicated. Most people tend to settle on their birthday, but that information is likely to be stored elsewhere on your phone. So, avoid the old birthday standby. If possible, skip the PIN number entirely and opt for a unique password. Security research firms suggest that passwords are much harder for thieves to crack. Best possible scenario, choose an alphanumeric password, with a unique combination of letters and numbers.
2 ‘Time Out’ Screens
Set your smartphone screen to timeout and lock in the shortest time possible. Yes, it’s annoying to have to log in over and over again, but a shortened timeout will help to hobble potential thieves. A fast timeout gives thieves less of a chance of getting into your email accounts, and accessing important data, should your mobile be snatched. At the very least, it will slow them down and give you time to retrieve your phone, or deactivate your accounts.
Those apps that you love to download can be dangerous, especially if they are sourced from unofficial vendors. When downloading any app, consider the source. Is the vendor reliable? What is the developer’s reputation? Beware of free apps from third party vendors. At best they will flood your phone with adverts, and at worst they may record your keystrokes and transmit them to potentially nefarious individuals. Stick to reputable vendors, like Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
4 Public Wi-Fi
Most mobile networks offer access to public Wi-Fi hotspots as part of a standard contract. However, while public Wi-Fi hotspots are cheap, they are far from safe. Most pub and coffee shop hotspots are poorly secured, and are vulnerable to hacking from criminals. Moreover, criminals can create hotspots that mimic familiar public Wi-Fi networks. In which case, you may find yourself connecting directly to fraudsters and criminals. Hotspots are high risk, and are best avoided.
5 Phishing Scams
For some reason, we tend not to think too much about malware and phishing scams when it comes to using our smartphones. But iPhones and Androids are just as vulnerable to dodgy websites as desktops. So, be careful where you roam on your smartphone. Phishing scams have also become a major problem for smartphone owners. Beware of suspicious emails, and never provide your personal data (user ID, passwords, etc) to an unconfirmed email request. Once thieves have your account data, they’ve won.
6 Storing Important Files and Data
Having important documents and files at your fingertips is one of the pluses of having a smartphone. However, if your phone is lost or stolen you may lose everything you’ve so meticulously stored. To protect yourself, sync your phone to your home PC store important documents, photos, and files there. Alternatively, you can sync your device to a cloud based storage service. Either way, this will ensure that should your phone be stolen you won’t lose all of your important files.
7 Encrypt Your Device
If you use your smartphone for work and leisure, it may be a good idea to encrypt your device. This will help prevent thieves from accessing sensitive information should your phone be lost or stolen. Encrypting your device will affect performance, causing it to work a little more slowly. However, it will also make it much more difficult for thieves to extract sensitive data from emails and documents stored on your device.
There is a growing black market for smartphones, and it is important to take appropriate measures to protect yourself and your data from criminals. These seven tips are a good starting point. However, to fully protect yourself you should also have a plan in place to track your device and remotely wipe any data from its memory. Google’s Android Device Manager features a remote wipe application should your phone be lost or stolen. Find My iPhone is available for Apple devices, and allows users to track their stolen phones and erase any sensitive data. Security specialists like Norton and Kaspersky also offer apps for other models of smartphones and phablets. Whichever service you use, a remote wipe app can be a lifesaver if your phone falls into the hands of criminals.
With mobile thefts and cyber crimes on the rise, it’s time to consider your personal smartphone security. Remember, once your data falls into criminal hands, you are already compromised. Taking appropriate actions now will protect you in the future.