Since mobile phones first entered the consumer market, they changed from a simple handheld device that could make calls to a sophisticated machine that stores our most personal data. Way back when, there were just two worries related to cell phones: the price of making calls and the possibility of a phone getting lost or stolen. No one relishes the hassle of losing a smartphone, but the real worry today is not loss or theft of the phone itself, but theft due to hacking of the private information it stores and can access.
Mobile Hacking is on the Rise
All through 2022, there was a marked increase in smartphone hacking. Part of a broader rise of 38% in global cybercrime, some experts predict a trend that will continue through 2023 and beyond. The reasons are both complex and straightforward. Experts say that the increased use of the smartphone (especially as a work tool) means we are keeping more private data on them, and this makes accessing the stored data a juicy reward for hackers. That data could be company details, saved shopping sites with credit card info just a click away, passwords for online banking, or photos and private information we wish to keep private. No matter what data we have on our devices, cybercriminals have developed sophisticated attack strategies including new strains of malware that focus on banking apps, specifically targeting mobile devices.
Smartphone users should be asking, “how can I protect my phone from hackers?” and taking steps to protect their devices from cybercriminals. While hacking methods evolve to become ever more sophisticated – a problem that will likely be exasperated by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence – the actions we can take to protect our smartphones are not difficult to implement. Below we provide a breakdown of the steps you can take to protect your device today.
Strengthen Passwords and Add Authentication
Passwords and other user credentials remain one of the most common ways hackers get into devices, yet despite warnings for decades, many of us continue to use guessable passwords and pins for our phones. For instance, some of us might use our year of birth for a 4-digit pin code, or a date of birth for a 6-digit code. Hackers are wise to this fact, and they can often easily glean this information from, among other sources, social media. Another kind of easily hacked pin code: those that feel “comfortable” to type, such as 1234 or 6878. This is known to hackers, too.
Using truly random passwords is, therefore, a key strategy to protect your mobile, but you can also supplement that with 2FA (two-factor authentication) for particularly sensitive apps. This gives an extra layer of security, and it is now offered by the majority of critical (like banking) apps on iOS and Android devices. These methods can be augmented as well with biometric passwords such as retina scanning and facial recognition. Indeed, Apple has recently gone a step beyond 2FA by announcing it would enable users to have a physical security key to replace some password pins.
Utilize Mobile Security Solutions
Smartphone security apps will offer the most robust protection for your mobile device and data, even against extremely sophisticated hacking attempts. Solutions like ZoneAlarm’s Mobile Security App for smartphones will offer formidable protection against numerous threats, including the blocking of malicious apps before they can be installed, instant alerts for suspicious websites, and real-time link validation to check for their trustworthiness. Reliable mobile security packages will also allow you to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots (see below) with peace of mind.
Mitigate Wi-Fi Risks
Public Wi-Fi has long been identified as a weak point that cybercriminals can easily exploit to get to your phone’s data. The free Wi-Fi offered at hotels, airports, coffee shops, libraries, etc., can be vulnerable to attack, and could put you at risk. Quite simply: Public Wi-Fi is not secure, and it allows hackers to position themselves between your device and the connection point. Once inserted, they can employ a range of cyberattack methods, including phishing, spoofing, and man-in-the-middle attacks. If possible, avoid using unsecured public Wi-Fi, but if you can’t, you can take steps to browse securely: Be sure the websites you are visiting use HTTPS, remember to log off of sites and accounts when you are done surfing, and consider installing a VPN. As mentioned above, by installing mobile security software on your cellphone, you not only reduce your public Wi-Fi risk – but you protect your data wherever you are using your mobile phone.
Download Wisely – Using Official App Stores
It is advisable to download apps only from the official Apple or Google app stores. For iPhone users, in particular, this was often a moot point as Apple’s walled-garden approach to its products left little option but to download iOS apps from the official App Store. However, regulators have been pushing Apple to abandon this approach, and in Europe, Apple will be forced to allow certain third-party apps to be downloaded by 2024, due to the Digital Markets Act. Some experts believe US regulators will follow suit. Nonetheless, when downloading apps, you should always choose the official app store where possible, and at the very least, research to ensure the app has been properly vetted before downloading. In addition, you should check app permissions, scrutinizing what access they are asking for, including your calendar and contacts, before tapping allow.
Keep Software Updated and Data Backed Up
Apple and Google release software updates regularly, and it’s a good idea to download the updates as soon as possible, as they include additional features, fixes, and patches to increase the security and stability of the software. For example, there were several security features added to the latest version of iOS 16.3, and in July 2022 the company rushed out an update (iOS 15.6) to patch several security flaws in the previous version. It takes just a few minutes to install an update, so it should be considered a no-brainer for smartphone protection. Additionally, it’s advisable to back up your data to the cloud at regular intervals, as it is then retrievable after a cyberattack or other issues like hardware failure.
Avoid Phishing Scams by Boosting Your Link Education
Phishing remains one of the most prominent attack methods for hackers, with billions of malicious links and emails sent each day. Some are easy to spot, whereas others are so sophisticated that they are nearly indistinguishable from an actual, authentic communication. Our complacency in clicking unknown links is arguably the biggest boon for hackers, so smartphone users should practice caution and educate themselves on how to spot a phishing scam.
Use and Benefit from Miscellaneous Smartphone Protection Strategies
Above, we have highlighted some of the steps you can take to protect your smartphone from hackers. There’s also a myriad of other measures that are recommended that have less to do with ensuring your device isn’t compromised, and more to do with smart smartphone management. For example, users should never leave their phones unattended in a public place, or even their place of business. Additionally, it is a good idea to remove unnecessary apps from your phones and avoid opening unknown links. Beyond that, it might be a good idea to occasionally carry out drills to simulate phone theft to check on your ability to locate the device through tracking, wipe your smartphone’s data – and restore it – remotely.
Protect Your Cellphone Now
In the end, your smartphone is no longer a physical item worth just the value of the purchase price. It likely contains sensitive information, which can range from the personal, like treasured photos, to the financial, like bank details, to the important, such as business data. If compromised by cybercriminals, the damage can cost a whole lot more than what you paid for that iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. Take the necessary steps to learn the strategies and implement the recommendations to protect your smartphone from hackers today.