When most of us think of smartphone security, there isn’t a lot that comes to mind. Keeping it on your person is generally the most anyone puts into protecting their device, and even that can be a stretch at times. Phones do not normally force their owners to make them secure.
Yet what is it exactly that makes one phone less secure than another? What settings and apps must a user have to compromise their security? Are there certain behaviors that are particularly dangerous? The answer to all these questions is a resounding yes!
In order to demonstrate what phones have the worst security, we will be explaining each situation as a sort of narrative.
Debbie is an Android user. She absolutely loves getting new apps. As a long time mobile phone user, she very much lives by the mantra “there’s an app for that.” Whether it’s a widget, 3D background or the latest game, she’s got it. There’s only one problem (aside of the huge performance loss) with Debbie’s habit.
The Google Play Store does not necessarily tightly police what gets put up for download. Unlike the Apple App Store, which closely vets its available apps, Google Play has very lax requirements. Obviously bad apps get taken down, but sometimes that takes a while. That means Debbie has a significantly greater risk of a few things:
- Loss of privacy due to excessive app permissions
- Identity theft due to malicious apps
- Malware and viruses
Apps that aren’t closely vetted all come with these kinds of risks. Since Debbie rarely reads the permissions these apps require, she would never know if her personal information is being taken and stored or sold.
If you can relate to Debbie, you may at least want to get a security app. This is especially true for anyone that installs apps that are found outside the app store. While there are safe apps to be found outside the Play Store, there is a significantly greater risk of infection from malware and even less vetting than Google does (i.e. none).
Don’t worry, as security apps are usually free, although they may have premium features. Avast is a good option for mobile devices if you want to start with something free to try out.
Our next vulnerable smartphone belongs to Oswald. Oswald has an older iPhone that he loves. For some reason it seems to run fine after all these years and he’s quite happy not updating to the latest device or software. Some might even call Oswald thrifty.
Apple keeps pushing updates, but each time he declines. Why should he change the operating system he likes so much? Well, there’s a problem with Oswald’s train of thought.
Operating system (OS) updates aren’t just for looks or new features. They’re also about closing up security loopholes in old systems that cybercriminals have found ways to exploit. By not updating his OS, Oswald risks falling victim to these exploits, which could ruin his device or steal information from it.
Unfortunately for Oswald, his device is also too old. Even if he were to update, his device isn’t powerful enough to support the latest iOS. While it sucks to have to spend money on security, it’s a necessary evil. It’s time for Oswald to get himself a new phone.
This is a lesson for the thrifty audience. Believe me when I say I understand those who don’t want to spend a bunch of money on a new device. Smartphones aren’t cheap, but owning a device that’s too far out of date puts you at a serious risk for a security breach.
Norton lives a fast-paced lifestyle. He’s always on the go and his mobile is at his fingertips. He’s got the latest Windows phone with all the cool features. But Norton also loves convenience. With all the work he does, he scarcely wants to spend time unlocking his phone with a code every time he turns the screen on.
With everyone on his mind, he doesn’t spend much time memorizing passwords. Instead, he uses the same password for all his accounts. When asked, he always either leaves himself signed in or automatically logs in with a saved password.
As you might guess, Norton has put his device and personal data at a serious risk. Not using a lock-screen password means anyone who picks up his device can access whatever they want. Since his accounts are always logged in (or the password are saved on the device), any stranger can access those too. A savvy user might even be able to find his saved password and use it at a later time.
Although it takes some extra time, password security is worth it. A good lock-screen password (a 4-digit pin is a good start, but longer or more complicated is better) will prevent others from directly accessing your device without your permission.
Having your accounts always signed in is also problematic. Let’s say you forget to turn off the screen or lock your phone. Your lock-screen password won’t save you there, but if your accounts aren’t all logged in, at least no one can access them. Saved passwords are also trouble, as there are ways to view them directly from the device.
Always keep unique passwords, lest you find your device broken into and your data taken.
Our last case study is Francis. She has a data plan with strict limits and hates paying overage fees. Switching to a plan with more data would cost her a lot of money and she would probably still go over the limit. Instead, she uses WiFi whenever she can. Whenever she can, she surfs the net on the coattails of public WiFi networks.
What Francis doesn’t know is that an unsecured WiFi network presents a real danger to her device. By connecting to WiFi networks, she runs the risk of getting hacked by other users with the know-how. It’s much more common than most people would believe. Yet Francis’s problem of limited data still exists.
Luckily, there’s an alternative solution for someone in Francis’ position. Installing and subscribing to a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service will allow her to connect her device to a remote server. A VPN like ExpressVPN encrypts internet traffic and prevents hackers from intercepting and stealing data.
This is great news for anyone in Francis’ situation (and there are quite a few who are). Getting hacked because of an unsecure network and a limited data plan is the worst thing because it doesn’t matter what device you’ve got. Every device that can network is in danger. For someone in Francis’ situation, the solution is a no-brainer.
Those were some general overviews of situations to look out for, but many people have a combination of problems. Do you think your device is secure? What are you doing to make sure no one steals your stuff or hacks your accounts? Share your strategies and ideas by leaving a comment below!
About the Author: Cassie is as attached to her phone as the next person, but she’s also a cybersecurity specialist! She hopes that the above information helps and that you can make some changes to your smartphone habits to keep yourself safe!