Smartphone Safety 101:
Ways to Protect Your Phone
from Damage and Hacking

Living in the digital age is convenient and fast, as compared to the time when computers and smartphones weren’t in use at all. Emails, texts, and instant messages are the new norm of communicating, and everyone is connected 24-7. While everyone enjoys this convenience, it comes with its own host of problems. The lack of privacy is one of the biggest challenges of people living in the 21st century.

Why Data Privacy Matters

A person’s name is part of their identity. Names belong to the public domain and are essential in daily life for transactions, like introducing oneself to a stranger or registering for a service. When data like personal information is unprotected, it can be used to do bad things.

For example, identity fraud is a serious legal offense in which criminals use others’ personal information to commit a crime or deceive. Another example is using concealed information for blackmail. As interaction has evolved into the digital space, having privacy or the lack thereof becomes even more consequential.

What Data Is Involved?

A data breach is the deliberate or accidental release of confidential information without express authorization. The types of data that should be kept private for security and anonymity on the internet are the following:

1. Personally identifiable information (PII)—data used to identify an individual. This includes the full name, home address, city, state, postcode, country, telephone and mobile number, age, gender, and race.

2. Personal health information (PHI)—data concerning the health information of an individual. It is collected and kept by health-care providers. This includes medical history, insurance data, prescription information, and diagnosis and treatment information.

3. Personally identifiable financial information (PIFI)—data related to a person’s finances. Name, credit card numbers, bank account details, social security number, and contact details are examples.

Why Hackers Prefer Infiltrating Mobile Devices

Low risk, high reward. Mobile devices like smartphones are more accessible than ever. Almost everyone has one because it has become a necessity for daily life. Smartphones are basically a portable computer you can connect online to do anything you can do with a computer, like browsing, using social media, shopping, and making transactions.

Desktops and laptops have default anti malware or antivirus programs to help protect them from cyberattacks. However, most mobile phones don’t have that kind of proactive security despite them having as much valuable information as other devices that can connect to the internet do.

Smartphones are smart for a reason, and they store every data of their user. They contain photos of the user, their friends, family members, and even pets. They know who the user frequently calls or texts among its contacts and passwords to different websites they frequent. Infiltrating mobile devices is easier for hackers and cybercriminals than you think.

How Hackers Do It

There are several ways hackers can get into mobile devices. The techniques and methods to hack personal computers are being modified to infiltrate smartphones. Here are some of the most common ways:

MALWARE

This is a software intended to damage a computer’s system to gain entry. Malware is an old-school way of getting access to a computer, and this technique is applied to smartphones for the same malicious reasons.

PHISHING

The phishing method uses fake websites and emails that deceive targets into divulging personal information, including passwords. A more mobile variant of this technique, called smishing, uses SMS (short message services) or texts to trick people into clicking on a URL to prompt a hacking software download on your phone.

KEYLOGGING

Keyloggers are spyware software that steals data from the user. Once this app is downloaded on the intended target, the hacker has access to various personal information, including passwords and usernames.

Best Ways to Hackproof Your Smartphone from Intruders

There are thousands of horror stories out there from victims of cybercriminals. Hacking can take place anytime and anywhere, but there are steps that can be taken to avoid being vulnerable.

Use a Security Software
It should be compulsory to install security software for mobile phones. Go for apps from reliable authority sources, and check out the reviews first before installing it on the device. A good anti malware app has privacy and anti theft features.

Update Software and Firmware Regularly
With so many things that can be installed on the phone, it’s easy to lose track of the apps that are in there. Uninstall the ones that have not been used in the last six months, and regularly update the apps that are used all the time. Applications with dated software have security vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit, and updating them lessens those chances.

A Strong Passcode Is a Must
Personal information and identity theft also happen when the smartphone gets stolen, lost, or if someone attempts to access it. A strong passcode is important to protect the contents of the device. It must be more complicated than the user’s date of birth or an easy pattern. Use multifactor authentication (MFA), including fingerprint, facial recognition, PIN, and password to secure the phone further.

Don’t Use Auto Log-in
Auto log-in makes getting inside apps and websites convenient, but hackers can use this to get access to various user credentials. Disable this feature on the smartphone, and opt for manual log-in instead. Utilize a password-management app to store strong random passwords to make it easier. This way, only a master password is needed to access everything else.

Download Apps from Trusted Sources Only
There are no stringent security checks for apps outside Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store. Never download software from third-party apps because they may contain malware that will infect your phone. Be sure to verify the app’s developer before hitting the download button, and check the reviews thoroughly.

Tips for Staying Safe on Public Wi-Fi Networks

Free Wi-Fi is available in most commercial establishments, and it helps people who are in a pinch. Whether to save data on their phone or laptop or because there is an urgent need to use the internet, it is important to know how to surf securely on any mobile device. Hackers can easily target public Wi-Fi because it isn’t as secure as its private counterparts are.

With enough skill and know-how, almost anyone can see the online activities of public Wi-Fi users. It is a huge risk to use Wi-Fi without protection because your identity, money, and personal information can be stolen easily. Here are simple steps to keep you safe on public networks:

Don’t Connect to Public Wi-Fi Unnecessarily
If there are no urgent tasks that need to be done, don’t connect to public Wi-Fi as much as possible. If it can’t be helped, do not access apps that require personal data, like personal bank accounts, social media, or money transfer apps. Change the passwords afterward for extra protection.

Stick to HTTPS Encrypted Sites
When surfing online, click on websites with HTTPS and not HTTP only. It stands for “hypertext transfer protocol secure,” and the extra S means the data within those websites is encrypted and, therefore, trustworthy.

Use a VPN
VPN stands for “virtual private network,” and it helps protect the device and the information inside it. A VPN service is a great tool to use to protect privacy when browsing the web on public Wi-Fi hotspots.

Turn Off File Sharing and AirDrop Features
Most mobile phones have file-sharing options, and it is a vulnerable channel that would-be hackers can target. Turn off file sharing for Android by managing the settings, and do the same for AirDrop for iPhones.

The same thing goes for Bluetooth connectivity. Set the Bluetooth settings to turn off when you’re out or traveling and then on back again at home to continue using existing smart devices seamlessly.

Enable Firewall
A firewall is a barrier that protects a device when using the internet. Most smartphones don’t have a firewall, and it is a necessary precaution against predators who want to steal data. Remember to download firewall programs from reputable sources only.

Install and Use Antivirus
An antivirus program can detect malware that will infiltrate the device while using the shared network. It will prompt an alert for suspected viruses, malicious attacks, and any suspicious activities. Make sure the installed app is up-to-date.

Turn Off Wi-Fi When Not In Use
Hackers are always developing ways to target and infiltrate devices. If there’s no need to be online, turn off Wi-Fi connection when not using the device. It is the safest way to protect against predators.

Ways to Protect Your Smartphone from Physical Damage

The longevity of a device depends on how it is taken care of. While the steps above help protect the user and the data inside phones, it is also necessary to protect the smartphone from physical damage. Scratches, cracked screens, and bumps are unsightly, so here are ways to help prevent those from happening.

Use a Tempered-Glass Screen Protector
One of the most important parts of mobile devices is the display. Most smartphones come with impact-resistant screens, but sometimes, they’re no match against gravity and the inevitable bumping here and there. Bare screens also easily scratch. A tempered-glass screen protector is a cheap way to protect the device and is even cheaper to replace than the phone’s actual screen.

Use a Sturdy, High-Quality Phone Case
Smartphones get damaged over time since they are constantly used daily. They’re not cheap, and the best way to extend their use and longevity is to invest in a high-quality phone case to ensure their protection. Those looking for a stylish protective cover can opt to get a custom phone case to fit their needs and aesthetics. There are services you can conveniently order from, or you can choose to go DIY to save money. Here are some ideas:

a. Add fun details using washi tape—washi tapes originate from Japan and are usually made with Japanese rice paper. They are colorful and easy to write on, so they make a great decorating option for phone cases. Make use of different-colored washi tapes to re-create geometric patterns or to add fun details.

b. Paint it creatively—a paint and brush can transform any phone case from drab to fab, and there are endless ways to go about it. You can freehand the designs or use stencils to make the patterns.

c. Print free graphics and patterns—make a clear case more exciting by simply inserting a printed pattern found on the internet for free. There are countless graphics and patterns available for use and download online. Use a program to scale the design according to your phone-case dimensions.

d. Create fun patterns with nail polish—for quick designs, use random dotted patterns and swirls, or even use nail polish to draw if you’re skilled enough. Use different colors for variety.

Keep Moisture Away
Liquids are the natural enemies of mobile devices. While manufacturers are increasingly making smartphones waterproof, these will still break or malfunction when it is dropped in the pool, beach, or bathtub. Be proactive in keeping moisture away from devices to keep them dry.

Never Leave Phones Unattended
Keep mobile devices in a safe place away from kids or pets to prevent them from mishandling it. Ensure that gadgets are always in a secure place when not in use.

Helpful Resources for Parents & Teens

References

Federal Communications Commission. 2019. "Wireless Connections and Bluetooth Security Tips | Federal ...." Last modified October 8, 2019.
https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/how-protect-yourself-online

Federal Trade Commission. n.d. "Data Breach Resources | Federal Trade Commission." Accessed March 27, 2020.
https://www.ftc.gov/data-breach-resources

St. John, Allen. 2016. "How Smartphones Are Becoming Hacking Targets ...." Written December 23, 2016.
https://www.consumerreports.org/hacking/how-smartphones-are-becoming-hacking-targets/

US Department of Homeland Security CISA Cyber + Infrastructure. 2019. "Choosing and Protecting Passwords | CISA - US-Cert." Last modified November 18, 2019.
https://www.us-cert.gov/ncas/tips/ST04-002

USA.gov. 2020. "Identity Theft | USAGov." Last modified March 5, 2020.
https://www.usa.gov/identity-theft