We’ve spent a lot of time discussing money safety and how to be better at securing your online identity, financials, and overall internet and device setup. With the launch of the new Android platform Blackphone, I thought it would be fitting for the last of the series to discuss mobile security and how you can achieve encryption without breaking the bank on a new device.
Use the Passcode and Encryption Features
Each smart phone comes with the capability to enable a passcode to enter the phone. Some newer phones have finger print recognition, and others have straightforward four to eight digit passcodes and some even have alphanumeric password options. Usually you set these up when you first get the phone, but afterward they can be changed by going to Settings > Lock Screen and select an option.
If your phone is ever lost or stolen, the passcode will save you from getting any of your stored personal data at their fingertips. Apple phones automatically encrypt the data in your phone when you setup a passcode, but if you have an Android phone you will have to enable encryption in the settings.
As digital eavesdropping becomes more of a concern, companies are coming out with ways to encrypt voice calls and text messages. Cell phone towers and networks are not digitally secure, and while your phone will never be 100% NSA-proof, there are some great apps available that will make calls and messages more difficult to intercept (such as Silent Circle for phone and text encryption, Wickr for secret messaging, and Whisper apps for secure chatting, Apple FaceTime and iMessage are encrypted out-of-the-box). In order for these encryption apps to work, however, the person you are speaking/chatting with must also have the same encryption service for you to be covered.
Update Your Software/Apps
As with any piece of software, upgrades are usually fixes to known issues or bugs that exist in the programs. It is important to make sure that you are keeping your manufacturer updates up-to-date so that you can prevent hackers and bugs from leaking through the existing loopholes into your phone and possibly compromising important information.
As with passcode settings, there are various settings on your phone that can allow you to have push notifications of updates, automatic updates when plugged in, or weekly updates. I would suggest the push notifications for the apps so that you can be aware of what you’re updating, and automatic updates for the phone-specific software.
Use “Location Services” Sparingly
Do you know that apps like Angry Birds store your personal information? Angry Birds knows who you are, where you are, who your friends are, and where they are, too. Does Angry Birds really need to know this information? What do they do with the information?
Most apps have a feature called “Location Services” that can be turned on or off depending on whether or not you need to use the GPS function of your phone to operate the app. But there are also apps (like Angry Birds) that comes downloaded with GPS function turned on automatically. While it may not be necessary for these apps to use your location, they are storing, selling, and manipulating the data for their benefit. Whether the data sold to companies for aggregation purposes or targeted advertising, or sucked into a Subscriber Identity database, your data is out there for the taking and could be used to harm you.
The great news is that you can turn off these settings for the apps that don’t need them (social networks, games, etc.)! Apps that should have these services enabled are things like Google Maps, traffic apps, and any other items that might require your location to operate. To disable this feature, you must go into Settings on your phone, and then go into each app and set the app-level location services to Off.
Make Use of the Cloud
Cloud technology is like a hard drive that exists out in the cybersphere and is a secure way of keeping important documents, data, and backups of your phone-specific data (contacts, etc.). What is great about the cloud is that it requires a login and is encrypted on many levels, so that you have an additional secure layer for your data. Plus, the risk of losing data from your phone is slim, assuming you back up to the cloud at a frequency of some sort, and can access it from virtually anywhere.
If you have an iPhone, you have an automatic option to enable the iCloud through your iTunes login. For those of you who have the Android platform (or don’t care to use the iCloud), there are plenty other options for you. Some of the best free options are Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive (a Microsoft product). Many of these have anywhere from 5-10 GB of storage for no fee at all, and have the option to add storage if necessary.
These are just a few of the top tips to secure your mobile device and there are many more things you can do for a more secure life. If you have any questions or wish to discuss any of the items above, feel free to contact us via phone or email.