Make Your Smartphone Secure

Make Your Smartphone Secure

We focus a lot on network and computer security.  But what should you be doing to keep your smartphone secure?

New smartphones may cost $700 or more, but that is nothing compared to the value of the data stored on your phone.  Identity theft alone will cost you more than $1500 and a huge amount of time to fix.  Your contacts can be used to scam your relatives into paying large sums to help you because they may claim that you are injured or stuck abroad and need money immediately.  You have a lot of important data on your phone

Enable a Complex Passcode

If you don’t use a passcode to enter you are really opening yourself up to trouble.  In the least, someone can use your phone to post prank updates on Facebook or change your lock screen to something embarrassing. (At least that’s what my friends would do.)  But more seriously, a criminal can steal your phone and access the wealth of information on your smartphone.  Take a moment to think what data is on your phone or in your mailbox. Maybe your accountant emailed your tax return or perhaps your credit report or mortgage/rental application.  Do you use your smartphone to view documents in Dropbox or iCloud?  Are any of those documents of a sensitive nature?

When selecting a passcode, choose a really, really good one.  Alphanumeric passcodes are better than 6-digit passcodes which are better than 4-digit passcodes.   Bad passcode choices would be consecutive numbers (1111, 2345) or numbers with a pattern (1478, 1236, 1598).  A really good, long, easy to remember passcode containing random words can be found at What3Words. Just pick a random place on the map and a random 3 words will appear.

3 random words

How to Encrypt Your Smartphone: Android OS

How to Set Your Passcode and Auto-Lock for iOS

Set an Auto-Lock Timer

Once you enable the passcode, you will also want to set the auto-lock timer for 1 or 2 minutes or so.  This prevents anyone of accessing your phone if it is left unattended and you forget to manually lock it by pressing the power button.  Auto-lock not only foils thieves, but also pranksters at work and game-seeking children.

Enable Touch ID

Touch ID is a great way to make accessing your smartphone easy and secure.  Of course, unlocking your smartphone is dramatically easier by just placing your finger over the home button.  But Touch ID also foils those who may be shoulder surfing, or looking over your shoulder and watch which digit sequence or password you use.  Children from a very young age are especially adept at shoulder surfing.

Updated 12/7/16: Recent court cases permit law enforcement to forcibly use your finger to unlock a phone that has touch ID enabled.  But police cannot force you to divulge your PIN or passcode as it would be a 5th amendment viloation.

Backup your Data

Like most people, you probably take a lot of photos and videos which are stored on your smartphone.  If it ever fell out of your pocket in a taxi or fell out of your bag or perhaps stolen, the consequences would be devastating.  Not only would you need to replace an expensive smartphone, but you would also lose your personal photos and videos as well as contact and email.  So backing up your smartphone is a must.

If you have an iOS device such as an iPhone or iPad, the easiest option is to backup to iCloud.  If you sign up for iCloud, you get 5GB for free.  But 50GB of storage only costs $1 per month.

Android OS devices like the Google Nexus or Samsung Galaxy smartphones can use the Google Drive to backup your data, photos, videos and settings. The first 15GB are free.  If you need more, 100GB is $2 per month.

Updated 12/7/2016: Current encryption technology prevents criminal and police from accessing data stored on your phone.  However, law enforcement can access the data stored or backed up in the cloud with a court order.

smartphone in coffee shop

Enable Phone Finder and Remote Wipe

If you lose your smartphone, you can use the manufacturer's phone locator app to lock the screen, play a sound so you can find it, locate the phone on a map and even remotely erase the smartphone.    But it needs to be set up first before the smartphone is lost.  Samsung Galaxy phones use the Find My Mobile app and Apple iPhone user need to install the Find My iPhone app.

The phone must be powered on and connected to the mobile network for the lock, locate or wipe commands to work.  Be very careful when using remote wipe because the phones contents will be irrecoverable, won't display any messages and you will no longer be able to locate it.  So use remote wipe only when you know for certain that the phone is lost for good.

Keep Updates Current

Just like your Windows or Mac computer, system updates are critical to the security and functionality of your smartphone.  Frequently the updates add new features, fix system bugs, improve performance and battery life but also patch security holes.  It's not a good idea to wait too long to apply updates but I personally wait a week or two for version x.x.1 to be released which usually includes fixes to the original update.