Smart phones, tablets, and other mobile devices have become a necessary part of many people's lives. Of course, there's a great deal of convenience in having high-powered computers at our fingertips—but there are also drawbacks. With more and more of us sending texts and emails on the go, not to mention banking, shopping, and conducting other transactions, our personal information is more vulnerable than ever.
Here are some of the Center for Identity's best practices for keeping your mobile devices secure.
Protect your physical device.
- Create a strong password. Don't use common words or phrases, your birthday, your kids' or pets' names, or anything else easily guessed. Choose a mix of letters (both upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols—shoot for easy to remember/hard to guess.
- Use your device's auto-lock feature. You can set the length of time after which the device will lock itself and require a password to unlock. Five minutes is a good estimate.
- Don't share your device with others. On a laptop or desktop, you can set up multiple accounts with separate passwords, making it easy to share a device while still maintaining privacy. That's not the case with a mobile device—so it's best not to share yours with anyone.
- Report loss or theft immediately. If you've lost a personal cell phone, report it to your carrier; if you've lost a company-owned device, report it to your employer. You should also change any passwords for personal or financial accounts to prevent identity theft or fraud.
Protect your data.
- Stay in sync. Regularly sync the data on your phone to your laptop or desktop computer. If the phone is damaged or data is lost somehow, you'll have a copy at hand. Some operating systems and devices, such as Apple's iCloud service, offer automatic backup and data encryption.
- Keep your device patched. Check with your device manufacturer on how to get the most recent bug patches or operating system updates, and make sure to install them regularly.
- Avoid "jailbreaking" and "rooting." These are terms for overriding some of the software features and security protections on your mobile device. Some users do this in order to install themes, apps, or extensions that are not available through the manufacturer. However, doing so leaves your device more vulnerable to attacks and compromises. It also voids your warranty.
Protect your PII.
- Don't share sensitive information via text. Never use text messaging to send personally identifying information (PII) such as your Social Security number, driver's license number, passwords, and bank account numbers.
- Watch your transactions. Avoid using your mobile device for banking, shopping, or other sensitive transactions unless you are using a secure Wi-Fi connection. Secure connections begin with "https" or "shttp" rather than just "http."
- Don't broadcast your location. Many mobile devices have a geotagging feature, which adds your location to information like photos you post or text messages you send. For more on this feature and how to disable it, watch the Center for Identity's video "What Is Geotagging and How Do You Turn it Off?"
Protect your device from malware and viruses.
- Check the ratings and comments before installing apps. Before installing anything new, check the ratings and comments to make sure you're clear with what the app does and which information it has access to.
- Only download from reputable sources. Trojans, viruses, and fraudulent applications are all risks. To avoid them, only download mobile applications from trusted, authorized application stores like the Apple App Store or the Android Market.
- For more information on how to protect your device from these risks, see our article Detecting and Avoiding Malware.