A 2016 report on mobile security by Intertrust estimates that the cost of mobile application hacks and data breaches will reach $1.5 billion by 2021. Despite this very real threat, only $2 million is spent annually on mobile app security, as compared to the $34 million spent each year on developing mainstream apps.
We routinely spend a lot of time, effort, and money securing desktop computer systems, laptops, and office networks – without realizing that smartphones and other mobile devices have fast become the targets of choice for hackers, fraudsters, saboteurs, and cyber-criminals. And that it’s precisely because their security is being largely overlooked, that mobile phones and other such hardware are now being targeted.
In this article, we’ll be offering some recommendations and mobile security tips and how you can become a less attractive option for hackers.
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Mobile Security Tips and Advice
Tip #1 – Don’t Default to the Defaults
When you first purchase it, mobile hardware typically comes with a pre-set configuration of factory or default settings for its environment – including the passwords, PIN numbers, and other mechanisms required to gain protected access to the device.
One of the first things you should do is change these to something more unique and personal to you. This means observing the standard rules for safe passwords and security codes (a mix of alphanumeric characters and symbols, etc.).
What it doesn’t mean is that you should trot out all those hackable old chestnuts like “0000”, “qwerty”, “12345678”, your birthday, or the name of that pet rooster you keep going on about at work.
Tip #2 – Update and Back Up
Keep an eye on the app store and set automatic updates where applicable, to ensure that your mobile device’s operating system, productivity apps, and security software (including anti-virus, anti-malware, and anti-phishing modules) are up to date.
You should also enable the backup of essential and frequently used files or documents to safe cloud storage. A number of mobile apps include this option as standard, and allow you to specify the backup frequency and mode of data transfer.
You can also perform manual backups of your own, using wireless data transfer (personal hotspot) or USB linkages to a separate laptop or desktop system.
These safeguards will ensure that you can restore your mobile environment to its former state in the event of any mishaps such as a device failure, malware infection, or data breach.
Tip #3 – Use Purpose-specific Email Addresses
By spreading your online identity over a number of different accounts and service providers, you can reduce the chances of losing all of your communications and transactions at once, if your account should happen to be compromised by hackers or fraudsters.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to maintain separate email accounts for personal and work purposes – and to maintain a selection of active email addresses so that you can provide different ones, if for example you’re requested to give a valid email address in order to gain access to an online platform or service.
Tip #4 – Download Apps Only From Approved Sources
Even though the Google Play Store (and to a lesser extent, the App Store for iOS) may have gained a reputation for hosting a fair proportion of bug-laden apps laced with malware, these official channels (and those for Windows Phone and BlackBerry) remain the most consistently reliable in terms of vetting and reviewing the software that they offer for download.
This isn’t generally the case with third-party app stores or torrent websites, which are a mobile app source for many who shun the official stores or wish to gain access to paid or premium versions of certain kinds of apps.
While it’s true that in certain parts of the world (China, for example) where access to the big-name app stores is restricted or prohibited, third parties are the only option for users wishing to download the latest software, the big players maintain a set of “semi-official” third-party agents, which are the ones that should be used.
Tip #5 – Take Precautions on Public Wi-Fi
Should the lure of free or low-cost public Wi-Fi prove too tempting to resist, remember the basic rules for maintaining your security online: Check the bona fides of the Wi-Fi network, before you connect. Don’t engage in financial transactions, or any activity requiring you to divulge personal or sensitive information. Close the door (sign out of everything) before you leave. And use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) application or service, like VitalSecurityVPN™ throughout.
Tip #6 – Use Access Controls on Your Phone
Besides the PINs and passwords, you should set up other access controls to create a layered defense barrier around your mobile device. These might include biometrics (e.g., if your device has a password scanner, voice or facial recognition app), graphical lock screens, virtual touch-pads, or other such mechanisms.
Tip #7 – Enable Device Tracking
Your mobile operating system may have a “Find My Phone” setting, which uses geo-tracking and other mechanisms to monitor your device location – and options to sound alarms or remotely wipe the data on your device if it’s reported as stolen or lost. There are third-party apps which also perform similar functions.
In any event, it’s a wise precaution to enable whichever of these tools you have available, as a safeguard against loss or physical theft of your devices.
Tip #8 – Beware of the Phish
Phishing scam artists have begun to shift their focus away from the desktop or laptop toward potential victims on mobile platforms.
The prevalence of mobile email, plus enhanced options offered by mobile advertising, short and instant message services, dictate that you should keep your wits about you and not give in to the lure or threat of mobile phishing attempts or social engineering ploys that could lead to malware, device infiltration, and data or identity theft on account of one careless click.
Tip #9 – Watch Those SMS Messages
Because of their frequency and prevalence on the mobile platform, SMS text messages can pose additional threats besides acting as phishing lures.
Some may simply be blatant promotions or upselling opportunities on the part of mobile network carriers. Others may be relics of software installed on your machine during factory production, which act as conduits for malware that can send messages or make premium-rate calls from your device, without your knowledge (until your data plan runs out, or the bills arrive). Yet others may work their way onto your device from malicious websites if you don’t observe safe browsing practices.
Whatever the case, it’s worth keeping an eye on your messaging system, to be on the alert for any suspicious-looking messaging or call activity.
Tip #10 – Don’t Keep All Your Eggs in One Basket
Just as it’s wise to keep backups of all your essential data, it’s also a good idea to not keep all of your essential data confined to a single device.
With cloud-based services and external computer systems (laptop, desktop, tablet, etc.) or storage media available at affordable prices, you should be able to disperse your valued documents, photos, files, and other information across a range of media, to ensure that the compromise or failure of one repository doesn’t mean that you lose everything.
Tip #11 – Don’t Give Out Your Number Too Freely
If you’re one of those people who hand out business cards (remember them?) like confetti, or broadcasts their phone number like it’s national news, consider this: There’s a network interchange service called Signaling System No. 7 (SS7), also known as C7 in the UK or CCSS7 in the USA, that acts as a broker between mobile phone networks.
With a phone number as an identifier and using the SS7 system, hackers can potentially track your location based the triangulation of mobile phone towers, read your sent and received text messages, and log, record, and listen into your phone calls. So be careful who knows your phone number.
Tip #12 – Remember the “Off” Button
Finally, remember that a mobile phone or device that’s powered down (i.e., switched off) can’t get into any mischief online, or be the recipient of any unwanted payloads.
So don’t feel that you have to leave your device on at all times.
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