As any expert will undoubtedly tell you, a little understanding of essential smartphone security features can help to keep you, your personal data, and your device safe from a myriad of vulnerabilities and potential threats.
Many of us take our smartphones for granted, and may even believe that a security breach would never happen.
However, the inescapable fact is that mobile devices are a haven for malicious attacks.
The 2021 Mobile Threat Report from security specialists McAfee reports that their software detected 43 million mobile malware variants in 2020.
Some 3 million were completely new variants of malicious attacks- proof that sophisticated hackers will always find new ways to target mobile phone users through fake apps, messages, and the like.
Elsewhere, The Secure List notes that Kaspersky Security Network detected 676,190 malicious installation packages on smartphones just in the third quarter of 2021 alone.
In other words, many of us likely assume that mobile phone security may not be a big problem.
However, smartphone security issues are a real risk for those of us who own iPhones, Android, and similar devices.
Of course, we don’t say this to scare you.
The good news is that smartphone manufacturers are getting better and better all the time about equipping their products with new and upgraded security features.
The only problem is that those security features may only be truly effective if we understand exactly why they’re there, and how to use them.
That’s where this guide comes in handy.
Smartphone Security: The A to Z Outline You Need to Know
We will try to supply you with all the necessary information to ensure that your data and your device are both as well-protected as they can possibly be!
A is for: App Tracking Transparency
App Tracking Transparency is a relatively new feature introduced to the Apple iPhone, arriving with the launch of iOS 14.5 in the summer of 2021.
The feature gives you the freedom and control to stop apps that you use from collecting personal data about you and then sharing it with other companies.
If you recall our recent piece on ‘The State of the Smartphone in 2022,’ we mentioned that the introduction of App Tracking Transparency upset companies like Facebook (now, Meta).
This is due to the fact that companies like Meta, Google, and many others rely on user data to generate their massive advertising revenues.
Meta created a campaign urging people to still allow them to collect data. The company claimed that not only was it one of the only ways to keep Facebook free, but by disabling tracking, people were harming small businesses.
They further emphasized that small businesses depended on these app permissions- and by process- Facebook ads to grow.
Not many people fell for Facebook’s guilt trip. In the first month after the iOS 14.5 roll-out, some 96% of US iPhone users opted out of app tracking- and for a good reason.
Any time a company collects identifiable data about you and sells it on, there’s always a risk that this data could be stolen.
Or, that it could possibly be used in a way detrimental or harmful to you. So, now that you’re aware of this feature on your current iPhone, it’s worth enabling it whenever you use an app that would normally otherwise collect and sell your data.
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B is for: Banking
The ability to manage our entire finances via a quick and easy app is one of the main things that appeals to so many of us about our smartphones.
Yet as quickly, easily, and conveniently as our devices make it to do everything- from paying bills, managing our investments, to mobile banking- it leaves us susceptible to a world of vulnerabilities.
As such, there are a few key things you’ll want to do to stay safe when using banking apps on your smartphone.
First, avoid using your banking apps while connecting to a public Wi-Fi network, as it’s through these networks that hackers have the easiest route into your device.
Beyond that, be sure to change up the password for your banking apps on a regular basis so that you’re still in safe hands even if an old password falls into the wrong hands.
Finally, be sure to avoid phishing scams. For example, never click on links in messages which appear to be from your bank, and respond only via your bank’s app or website instead.
C is for: Call Protection Apps
Call Protection apps help to keep annoying salespeople and other nuisance callers at bay, while some also allow you to keep your number private even if you’re the one making the call!
Popular call protection app Burner, for example, lets you generate a random phone number that you can give out to people to call you.
When anyone contacts you on that number, the call is routed to your cell phone so that you can receive calls without giving away your personal number.
When you’re done with the number, you can simply burn it and use a new one.
Elsewhere, the Firewall app for Apple iOS promises to block 100% of unwanted calls and texts by using a whitelist approach through which you decide which select numbers are allowed to get through to you.
If a number isn’t on your whitelist, it doesn’t get through. Simple!
If you’re having troubles with nuisance calls or pushy salespeople, or if you simply want to take an extra step to keep your personal cell phone number private, apps like these prove to be a worthwhile investment.
D is for: Data Backup
We store a lot of data on our phones.
This doesn’t just mean credit card details and other sensitive information, but also data that is similarly invaluable and can’t be easily replaced (such as photos, videos, and text messages).
This is so that if your phone is broken, stolen, or otherwise compromised, you’ll still be able to access all of your data.
E is for: Encryption
Encryption is a means of scrambling information to prevent unauthorized access. In terms of smartphone security, this comes in many forms.
If you use Wi-Fi hotspots, it’s a good idea to pick secure hotspot encryption.
The Wireless Protected Access 2 (WPA2) is one such Wi-Fi security feature that can be used to enhance the protection of data passed along your network.
When it comes to passwords, it’s a good idea to use tools like LastPass.
LastPass stores and encrypts password data so that even if a criminal does get their hands on your password, it will be wholly scrambled and inaccessible.
F is for: Find My Phone
Find My Phone / Find My Device is a feature on both Apple and Android devices that does exactly what it says:
“Utilizing a Global Positioning System (GPS) and network connection to help you locate your device, should it go missing.”
As long as you have location tracking enabled on your device, and as long as it’s switched on and connected to either a Wi-Fi or cellular network, you can log into your account via a web browser.
You can then use it to track down your phone and enable a function called Lost Mode, which lets you remotely lock your device until you’re reunited with it.
G is for: Google Play Protect
Google Play Protect is an Android feature that runs safety checks on any apps that you download from the Google Play Store to ensure that they’re legitimate and free from malware.
You can access this feature by opening the Google Play Store app, selecting the profile icon in the top corner, then going to Play Protect – Settings and enabling the Scan apps with Play Protect feature.
H is for: Hardware
Though most security vulnerabilities are a result of the software running on your phone, that’s not to say that various parts of your smartphone anatomy can’t also be the source of problems.
In the summer of 2020, a vulnerability was discovered that allowed hackers to gain access to iPhone’s Secure Enclave Chip- a function that manages the storage of keys used to protect sensitive data like passwords and credit card details.
While this does sound worrying, you will be relieved to learn that accessing the chip typically requires a skilled hacker who also has physical access to your device.
This typically means that this vulnerability isn’t something to be too concerned about unless your phone is lost or stolen!
I is for: ID Numbers
Every smartphone comes with a unique identification number that is often imprinted into its circuits.
On some devices, this is known as an IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identify) number or a MEID (Mobile Equipment) number.
These numbers can’t be altered in the way that data stored on your SIM card can, and often prove to be extremely helpful if your phone is lost or stolen.
Report a missing phone to your carrier, for example, and they’ll already have your ID number- making it easier for them to place it on a missing phone list.
Suppose you report your phone to the police as stolen, and it’s eventually recovered. In that case, they might ask you for the IMEI or MEID number in order to return it to you, so it’s always worth keeping a copy of this number stored somewhere securely.
The easiest way to access your unique number is to simply call *#06# from your phone, which will then bring up the information on the screen.
Alternatively, Android users can go to Settings-About Phone while iPhone users can go to Settings – General – About, and this should reveal information about your IMEI or MEID number.
J is for: Juice Jacking
“Juice Jacking” is a process through which hackers utilize public charging stations to access data on your phone.
When you plug your phone into a public charging port, data is transmitted between that port and your phone.
If the port has been compromised, it’s easy for a hacker to use this to get into your emails, contacts, photos, and any other sensitive information on your phone.
As such, if you see a charging port in an airport, shopping center, or similar location, it’s best to think twice before using it.
K is for: Kill Switch
Although you’ll rarely-if ever– find it called such a thing on your own device, pretty much every smartphone sold since 2015 features a kill switch.
This handy feature allows you to completely wipe the contents of your phone remotely so that it’s rendered entirely unusable if it gets stolen.
Apple users can do this via the aforementioned “Find my Phone” features on the iCloud dashboard.
This feature also ensures that a would-be thief can’t erase and reactivate your phone in order to sell it; a feature that is very similar to the “Reactivation Lock” found on Samsung devices.
L is for: Locking
It may sound obvious, but one of the simplest (yet most effective) methods of protecting your smartphone is simply to lock your home screen.
This won’t prevent security problems caused by rogue apps or compromised networks.
However, it certainly guarantees that nobody will be able to access the content on your smartphone directly- should it fall into the wrong hands.
For this reason, it’s recommended to avoid using the basic “Swipe to Unlock” feature that most phones offer and instead create a secure password or PIN.
The longer and more complex your log-in code is (this isn’t the place for “1234” or “Password”), the more difficult it’s going to be for anybody to get into your phone in case it ever gets lost or stolen.
Along with a password, it’s a good idea to enable any fingerprint, voice, and facial recognition security features that your phone offers. These kinds of features are uniquely personal to you and provide an extra layer of protection.
M is for: Malware
Malware (literally ‘malicious software) is a type of software that targets and attacks the operating system of your device, leaving you vulnerable to having your data stolen.
In extreme scenarios, you may experience being permanently locked out of your phone (sometimes with the promise of it being unlocked if you pay an extortionate fee to a hacker) or a whole world of other problems.
Malware takes many forms, but the biggest problem in terms of smartphone security is spyware.
Spyware is malicious software that literally spies on your phone usage and collects data about that usage (including passwords, contacts, payment details, etc.), and then sends that data onto a third party.
Other types of malware are the Trojans, a virus that sneaks onto your phone undetected in what appears at first to be a legitimate app.
It’s because of malware and its prevalence that standard smartphone security measures become necessary to deal with these issues. These include:
- locking the device properly
- keeping apps and operating systems updated
- and even installing specialist mobile security software.
N is for: Network Threats
At any given moment, your smartphone is usually connected to at least two different networks- whether that be your cellular and Wi-Fi network, GPS system, Bluetooth, or even all of the above.
Each of these network connections presents a potential threat as hackers can use the connection points:
- to hijack your phone
- infiltrate an otherwise secure corporate network
- carry out an elaborate scam.
The best approach to prevent this is to switch off access to any networks you’re not currently using, strengthen your home Wi-Fi networks with stronger passwords, and only connect to public networks that you’re absolutely certain you can trust.
O is for: Operating Systems
Android and iOS are both operating systems (OS) that allow us to interact with and manage all of our devices’ tools, apps, and features.
Most people are aware of this, but some don’t know that beneath the main OS there’s actually a second operating system stored in the device’s firmware.
This second, lower-level operating system is responsible for managing essential radio-related functionalities of your phone (connectivity, in other words).
However, this secondary OS has been known as a source of numerous security vulnerabilities, which make it easier for those with malicious intent to gain control of your device.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem that has a quick, easy solution. Don’t worry too much however; all of the standard smartphone security measures we’ve talked about in this guide do provide some level of protection against these attacks.
P is for: Phishing
Phishing is one of the oldest security threats around, and really shows no sign of disappearing any time soon.
Phishing (pronounced “fishing”) is a form of cyberattack in which a seemingly legitimate message is sent to a user.
This message typically contains a link or attachment, which again seems legitimate but actually leads to a user inadvertently installing malware on their phones.
Email was the tried-and-trusted means through which phishing scammers operated for decades.
These days, you’re just as likely to be on the receiving end of a phishing message via SMS, social media, or other popular messaging apps on your phone.
It’s for this reason that it’s always a good idea to avoid opening anything sent to you that you don’t absolutely trust.
As we’ve said elsewhere, some of the top mobile security apps can also help detect when a link or attachment may not be what it seems and alert you. You can avoid falling victim to a phishing scam if you install these apps onto your device.
Q is for: Question!
It’s precisely because of the abovementioned phishing scams and prevalence of malware that it’s always good to question everything that you download or interact with on your phone.
We’re not trying to turn you into paranoid, highly-skeptical smartphone users who are worried about every little thing that they never get anything done, mind you!
We’re simply advising you to proceed with caution when it comes to installing new applications or interacting with others.
Even if a message comes from someone you know and would usually trust, there’s still a chance that the person themselves could have had their account hacked and used to spread malware to everyone in their contacts.
So, even if your partner or dear mom and dad send you a message that doesn’t look quite right, it’s best to question whether you really think that message has come from them or if they may have had their account compromised.
Likewise, question the legitimacy of any apps you download.
Does anything seem off about the app?
What kind of reputation does the app have among its users?
If you read user reviews that flag up an app as being a security risk, it’s best to avoid it.
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R is for: Rooting
Rooting involves gaining root access to the operating system code on Android devices.
This gives you unrestricted control to modify your phone however you like, free from the limitations placed upon you by Android and your smartphone manufacturer.
With Apple devices, a similar process is known as “jailbreaking,” as you’re quite literally breaking free from Apple’s restrictions.
There are all kinds of reasons you might want to root or jailbreak your phone. These are adding customized themes and graphics, downloading apps that Apple or Android otherwise forbade, or simply improving your phone’s performance.
However, as the old saying goes: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!” as there are many risks involved in rooting and jailbreaking.
When you gain root access to your phone, you’re bypassing all of the security restrictions, which leaves you wide open to all manner of viruses, Trojans, and spyware.
That’s not to mention the fact that one wrong move could essentially render your entire phone useless.
S is for: Security Checkup
The more you use your phone in various ways, and the more apps and operating systems evolve, the more your existing security settings can be altered.
This is why it’s a good idea to go into your account and review those settings periodically.
On Android devices, you can do this by going to Settings – Security and Location.
iPhone users can access their settings by going to any one of the following:
- Settings – Apple ID – Settings – Password & Security
- Settings – Privacy
- Settings – Passwords.
T is for: Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication is a process that, as its name implies, requires you to complete two different security measures to access an app or a device.
In two-factor authentication, you use a PIN followed by fingerprint recognition to get into your phone.
Alternatively, you can opt for a one-time passcode sent to your phone from an app after you’ve already entered your usual PIN.
Going through an extra security step can feel like a chore sometimes.
However, this simple-yet-effective tool provides you with a much-needed extra layer of protection.
Even if a malicious person manages to crack any one of your security codes, the two-way authentication ensures they are unlikely to get both- and thus, won’t be able to access your data.
U is for: Updates
As we mentioned in our guide to fixing common smartphone problems, many errors and vulnerabilities can be caused simply by an outdated operating system or application.
Keeping outdated software on your phone gives more chances to hackers that are trying to break into your phone, making your phone more vulnerable to cyber attacks as a result.
So, while it can be a hassle to keep up with smartphone updates, it can also be invaluable for ensuring that you’re running software that has fewer-if any- vulnerabilities.
V is for: Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
Virtual Private Networks, often known simply as VPNs, let you send and receive data over the Internet via a private network.
VPNs avoid the risks involved in transmitting sensitive data compared to public networks that are otherwise prevalent in coffee shops and airports.
Every time you use a VPN, you’re assigned a temporary IP address which keeps your real IP from being discovered by websites, email contacts, and apps.
It also ensures that everything you do on that network is fully encrypted, once again helping to keep your sensitive data out of the wrong hands.
W is for: Wi-Fi Spoofing
Wi-Fi spoofing involves hackers creating a “spoof” version of a public Wi-Fi network such as those found in hotels, coffee shops, and similar public places.
The Wi-Fi network broadcasts the same name as the legitimate network and looks to be the same thing for all intents and purposes.
Should you log in to this spoof network rather than the real deal, the hackers who set up that network can then monitor and record everything you do on your device.
This can include actions ranging from entering your mobile banking password, to sending photos to your contacts.
The best way to avoid this is simply to avoid public networks altogether, and instead opt for using your phone as a hotspot or accessing the internet via a VPN.
X is for: X-Rated
Did you know that between May 2020 and April 2021, the number of phishing attacks using X-rated material increased by 974%?
Meanwhile, the BBC reports that pornography makes up less than 1% of content requests on mobile devices, yet is the cause of 16% of all mobile malware attacks.
In other words, no matter how tempted you might be to have a little fun, adult content is best avoided on your mobile!
Y is for: Your Rights
No matter where you are in the world today, the data protection laws governing your country will likely include information about:
- your rights to access a copy of any personal data that companies stores about you,
- requesting any inaccurate information to be rectified.
Some laws, such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), even include the “Right to be Forgotten” (formally known as the “Right to Erasure”).
This right allows you to request that data held about you by a company be deleted. Providing that certain conditions are met, the law also states that the company in question has an obligation to carry out that request without delay or objection.
From a security standpoint, this can be invaluable for helping you to take more control of your personal data, and ensure that only companies you absolutely trust to use that data appropriately can have access to it.
Z is for: Zimperium
Zimperium is a mobile security company that usually specializes in smartphone security solutions for enterprises and corporations.
In late December 2021, the brand teamed with the City of Los Angeles to release a new app called LA Secure, which helps to protect people in Los Angeles from the whole wealth of security threats faced by Android and Apple iOS users.
Of course, that’s good if you live in LA, but what about the rest of the world?
The good news is that Zimperium’s app isn’t the only smartphone security tool out there for the average user.
Many major players in the security industry, such as Norton, Avast, Kaspersky, and McAfee, all have mobile antivirus and security tools available, and it’s always worth installing at least one as an extra line of defense against attacks.
Frequently Asked Questions About Smartphone Security
Q1. What is the most significant source of mobile malware?
Ans. Advertisements on websites and in applications are the biggest source of malware in 2022, with pornography a close second.
Q2. How do I make sure my phone is secure?
Ans. The most effective ways to ensure your phone is secure is by:
• locking your phone with a secure password/pin
• enabling biometric locking such as fingerprint recognition
• keeping your OS and apps updated
• ensuring that you only download apps from places you trust.
Q3. How can I tell if my phone has been hacked?
Ans. Signs that your smartphone has been hacked:
• your battery is draining faster than usual despite using your phone as normal
• you notice calls or texts on your device that you’re certain you didn’t make
• if your phone suddenly shows you large, bright pop-ups (especially X-rated ones).
Final Word on Smartphone Security
If you’ve read the A-Z above, you’ve probably realized that smartphone security threats can come from a variety of sources.
Threats can arise not just from the apps and operating systems on your devices, but also from the networks you use- and even good, old-fashioned theft!
That’s enough to put some people off the idea of owning a smartphone altogether.
Yet, there’s a lot you can do to help keep your data and your device safe, and most of these things are pretty straightforward.
It takes very little to set up a secure password, backup your data, and keep on top of updates, but that little can go a very long way to providing all the security protection you could need for your beloved mobile device.