Friday, February 28, 2014

Ways to Keep your Smart Phone Secure

Our smart phones.  They have become our sidekick, our partner as we go out of the house each day, and the provider of constant feedback from our friends, family, and employers.  As we use our smart phones to accomplish more and more tasks, we need to consider what we can do to help keep them secure.  If your phone is compromised, lost, or stolen, taking steps to secure your phone in advance will greatly reduce the impact of the situation.
  1. Keep a passcode on your phone.  This is one of the first lines of defense towards securing your phone in the event it is lost or stolen.  Set a passcode on your phone and then be sure to set the auto-lock feature for as short a period of time as you can stand.  Setting the auto-lock feature protects you when you accidentally leave it somewhere, if someone picks it up and walks off with it, or if you tend to leave it at your desk, etc.  Lastly, set any available features to wiping your phone of all personal data if the wrong passcode is entered too many times in a row.  NOTE:  If you do set the auto-wipe feature, be sure to back up your phone often, and let anyone in your family know not to mess around with logging into your phone.
  2. Do not reuse your phone passcode.  While it is tempting to reuse passcodes so you can remember them, try to refrain from ever reusing the passcode you use on your phone.  Before you dismiss this idea, think of all the places you type your passcode on your phone.  This list will likely include the coffee shop, your desk at work, anywhere you stand in line, wherever you are when your phone alerts of an incoming text, while you lounge on vacation, the list goes on and on.  Reusing the passcode somewhere like your ATM number reduces the security of your private data.  Instead, use a passcode not used anywhere else, not as an ATM number, and not as the numbers that go before or after passwords you use to log into other accounts.  This is not directly aimed at securing your phone, however, it provides a barrier between your phone and the rest of your data if your phone were to be compromised.
  3. Do not open emails / links / attachments / links in texts from unknown senders.  This topic is covered in depth in our "Tips to Avoid Scams Pitting Technology Against You" post, as well as being mentioned in others.  The main concept here is to use caution accessing anything sent from an unknown sender.  It is also important to use caution with items sent from senders you know as they could also include harmful information.  If something seems off about the communication, even if it is from somewhere you do conduct business with, go directly to the website of the sender or call customer support instead of clicking on links in emails.
  4. Do not share your phone credentials with anyone.  If you give away your phone credentials, which you use to download apps, those credentials can be accessed and used later without your consent.  Any new purchases made while logged in with your credentials will show up on your credit card whether you consented to them or not.  Protect your credentials associated with your phone at all times to protect the account associated with your phone and your credit card.
  5. Do not enter private data when using public wifi.  Whenever you are away from your trusted network, use caution typing private information into your phone in any apps if you are connected to a public wifi network.  Your data is much safer passing over your cellular plan than it is on a public wifi network.  If you have limited cellular data included with your plan, try doing all items that require private information first, and then connecting to the public wifi for non-critical data transfers.  Using public wifi to check bank accounts, send important emails about a work project, or send emails to all of your contacts about an upcoming vacation is about as transparent as someone yelling across the room to their friend walking in to the right person listening.  Unfortunately, to anyone seeking out data, a public wifi network is an easy target for sniffing Internet traffic.
  6. Keep your software up to date.  Keeping your phone up to date is important in two aspects.  Smart phones are small computers when broken down into the simplest of terms.  Just as computers start with an operating system and then software applications are installed on top, so are smart phones.  First, you need to make sure you update the operating system when updates are available as they often address software bugs and security holes in addition to adding features.  Beyond the operating system, you also need to install the application updates for any apps you have downloaded.  This is just as important as updating the operating system because these updates also address security holes.  Both types of updates need to done regularly to reduce the security risks of your phone.
  7. A personal phone is just that, personal.  Do not access or store business documents or information on your personal phone without knowing what your employer's policy is for such behavior.  Most companies have a policy around having business information on employees' personal phones.  If you do not know what the policy is, be sure to ask your employer before using your personal phone to access business information.  Being unaware of your employer's policy will not automatically protect you from what is in the policy.  This is the equivalent of driving in a different state, just because you do not know the traffic laws there does not mean they will not hold you accountable for following them.  If you have no choice but to use your personal phone for work, talk to your employer about purchasing or reimbursing you for encryption software for your phone.  Often times an employer is willing to pay for such items when they know it is most beneficial to them in the long run.
As you use your smart phones to accomplish more tasks, you need to be really aware of what you do on them.  While smart phones may have started out as little more than phones that also texted and had a few cool games included, the variety of ways they are used now far surpasses these tasks.  With each new feature on our phones, comes a greater threat to our personal data and the security of our devices.  Using caution when entering private information, making sure you know who is asking for your information and why, being aware of who is near you or might be watching as you type your credentials, keeping important information off of public wifi networks, and keeping your software up to date will help reduce your risk.

Being aware of data safety is important!

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