We read about cybercrime, hacking and security threats continuously. We shake our heads in a resigned fashion, close the article and go on about our business. When we travel, we’re more interested in getting that email sent or in sharing our latest photo to bother about whether the network we’re accessing is safe or not.
It goes on like this until we find ourselves on the receiving end, like the victims in the articles we read. For a moment, we do not believe it could have happened to us – weren’t the articles more of a cautionary tale than actual stories? No. Unfortunately, they weren’t.
We are surrounded by cyber threats but we’re at our most vulnerable when we’re abroad. Most of us go on a WiFi hunting spree and we’re so happy when we manage to find one which is free, that we don’t stop to think whether it could just be bait.
Our mobile phones have become loaded with sensitive data, both personal and business-related. Being hacked has therefore become more of a risk. “More and more often we’re seeing either Android- or iPhone-based vulnerabilities being targeted,” Joe Nocera information security expert from Pricewaterhouse Cooper says. It’s not just PCs which are being targeted. On the contrary, mobile has become the hacker’s favourite target.
Don’t despair just yet. There are a number of tips you can follow and although taken individually they are not fool-proof, following a number of them can help you raise the safety bar up quite a few levels.
1. Lock your mobile device with a strong password or use biometric protection
Or when possible, use both. This is the first line of defence against stolen phones and should not be dismissed. Use a combination or letters, numbers and acronyms as much as possible. Biometric protection, such as the use of fingerprints or iris scanners add a further layer of protection. It’s mobile security for dummies – but considering how a third of smartphone users do not password protect their phone, it’s also a cautionary reminder.
Remember to change your password every 6 months or so.
2. Keep your software updated
If password protecting is the first line of defence, making sure your software is running on the latest patches cuts a close second. Before you travel, check for any software updates. Many of them include fixes for security bugs, sealing cracks in the system. However, do check whether the update has a deluge of negative reviews and whether they pertain to security issues first.
3. Due diligence on Apps.
As a first recommendation, delete any old apps you’re not using anymore. They store data about you and also track your location whether you’re aware of it not. You probably also haven’t updated the app in a while, meaning it could be an Achilles Heel in your device. When you’re about to download new apps, review the ratings and comments from people before you do. Don’t just download haphazardly. It could be the difference between downloading a legit app – and a rouse to easily hack into your phone.
4. Set up a PIN
Setting up a PIN (under settings) automatically sets up data encryption on newer Apple models and ensures your data is safe from unwelcome eyes. It basically locks the use of the phone from unauthorized users and it’s absolutely free.
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5. Disable Bluetooth for pairing devices
Another common mistake: apart from draining your battery, Bluetooth is essentially an open gate for hackers who can easily use this technology to gain entry to your phone. If you’re not using it, simply switch it off and if you are, make your device invisible to others.
6. Beware of faux towers
A fancy name, for a not too pleasant concept. Most phones are set to connect to the strongest network in the vicinity. You can imagine how this becomes a problem when the network you connect to is fake, and has been set up solely to take control of the phones connected to them. This “emerging threat” of fake networks reduces connection speed, making your phone more vulnerable as data encryption ceases to function . And when we say “take control of phones” we do mean it in the literal sense. There have been cases of microphones switching on to eavesdrop on important meetings – though this is just an extreme case. Just take extra care of the networks you connect to when you’re abroad.
7. Turn off Wifi
When you’re not using WiFi, turn it off so it does not automatically sign you in on the next free WiFi which could possibly be unsafe.
Just because you pay for access to certain WiFi zones does not mean it is secure . The Pebble is the ideal tool to stay connected when you’re abroad. Its password protection feature allows up to seven devices to connect to the Internet, securely.
8. Turn on Find My Phone and remote wiping
If you don’t enable these two features from beforehand, you will not be able to use them when the phone is actually stolen. Remote wiping all your data ensures that users without the authority to access the phone will not see any sensitive data you might have.
9. Turn off location tracking
While enabling the location features grants you access to more information, be aware that this collection of location information can be harmful in the wrong hands. It’s akin to leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. Turn it off if you’re not using it & check whether your social media settings are displaying this info too. Needless to say, if that’s the case – switch them off or change them if you’re traveling.
10. Turn off cookies and autofill
While we all agree on the convenience of having our browsers fill in forms for us, this is actually making things easier for hackers or people who steal your phone. Having third party apps such as LastPass help you store your passwords in a more secure way. Nothing is fool-proof in reality, but every added layer of protection helps.
The key to mobile security is staying alert, not falling into easy traps ( that WiFi network called Free_WiFi? Probably not a good idea ) and a dose of common sense.
Still got hacked? Changing the password with a stronger one usually does the trick but check whether your settings have been changed in the interim. When a user got hacked some months ago, a setting for incoming emails was changed and set to not receive any email with the @ symbol in their address. Pretty subtle and unfortunately, very effective.
Last words of advice: Do pack a good and secure roaming SIM for your travels. Add the fact that it covers more than 200 destinations, and you have yourself a proper Swiss Army knife for your mobile needs.