Mobile phones are now essential tools for everyday life. They allow us to communicate, access information, play games, watch movies, listen to music, read books, surf the web, etc. Smartphones are also becoming more powerful and versatile every day. It is therefore important that you protect your phone from unwanted attacks (viruses, trojans, spyware, keyloggers, phishing, malicious links, spam messages, email attachments, etc.).
This guide will teach you how to secure your smartphone against malware, viruses, keyloggers, spyware, phishing, malicious emails, and other threats. If this sounds like something you need help with, then keep reading!
What can an attacker do on my mobile device?
An attacker can perform many actions on a victim’s smartphone:
- Record conversations
- Take pictures or record videos of a user during private moments
- Monitor text messages or use them as a Trojan horse
- Access confidential data such as passwords, credit cards, banking details, etc.
- Steal sensitive information such as contacts, calendars, photos, notes, SMS texts, calls, location, browser history, emails, chat logs, etc.
- Disable anti-virus applications
- Bypass two-factor authentication processes (such as voice recognition)
- Block incoming calls at specific times
- Manage files in order to hide them from the owner
- Modify existing software
- Delete files without being detected
How can I prevent malware from attacking my device?
The first thing we must understand about malware is that it comes in different shapes and forms, which means that there is no single way to prevent all attacks. The best defense you can have is a layered approach. The following methods work together to defend your smartphone against malware.
Using a VPN connection.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection allows you to connect to public networks using encryption. Encryption makes it harder for attackers to see what you’re doing online. Most smartphones come with built-in VPN client features, but if they don’t, you may be able to download one from Google Play or Apple App Store.
Turn off Wi-Fi when not needed.
When you connect to a network via Wi-Fi, hackers can view everything you type into your web browser, send out fraudulent emails, steal your login credentials, track your movements, and much more. To make sure your data remains safe, turn off Wi-Fi when you aren’t actively using it.
Enable “Unknown Sources” and “Always Allow Apps From Unknown Providers”.
Android enables apps downloaded from third parties called “unknown sources” by default. You can try these apps that would help you stay protected online. They provide additional functions such as allowing developers to test their apps before releasing them publicly. However, unknown sources should only be used if you trust the app developer. In most cases, a permission dialog pops up asking the user whether he/she wants to install the app.
If the user says yes, the installation continues. If not, the application won’t be installed and the user is warned. In some cases, however, the application installs silently in the background. By enabling “always allow apps from unknown providers”, the user accepts applications that were downloaded from unidentified sources without being asked for permission.
Change your password frequently.
With each new device you own, you become more vulnerable to hacking. Therefore, change your passwords often. And never use the same password on multiple devices.
If you’re concerned about what your provider might know about you, consider switching to an open-source wireless router that supports WPA2 security. OpenWrt is free of charge, easy to set up, and offers many extra customizations. It’s also a great solution for anyone who runs a home server.
Use strong passwords.
Passwords are the weakest link in any system where people store personal information. Password complexity requirements vary depending on the purpose of the account. For instance, websites that ask you to create a username and password for logging in will require much stricter password rules than those sites that just allow you to sign up for an email account.
Use a password manager.
A password manager stores your usernames and passwords in a secure database so you always have access to your important details, wherever you need them. There are many popular password managers available today, ranging from paid alternatives like 1Password to open-source tools like KeePass.
Two-factor authentication adds another layer of protection to your accounts. Instead of entering your password alone, you must enter a second verification code sent via text message or phone call to verify your identity. This means that even if someone gets hold of your password, they still can’t log in unless they have both your password AND the correct second factor.
Limit your usage time.
Set limits to how long you’ll spend browsing the internet on your smartphone. Many mobile browsers include a feature called Data Saver which automatically reduces the amount of data transferred over 3G or 4G connections. Other ways to limit data usage include turning off unnecessary notifications, limiting the number of tabs you open at once, and disabling Wi-Fi when it’s not needed.
Disable location-based services.
Location-based services, or LBS for short, are features found in smartphones and tablets that collect and send your current GPS coordinates or other relevant information back to the company providing the service. Some LBSs do this anonymously; others track your movements. Most companies using these services promise to keep your information anonymous but some aren’t transparent with what happens with your data. If you don’t want to share your whereabouts with strangers, turn off location-based services on your smartphone or tablet.
Keep software updated.
As technology advances, newer versions of software come out. Keeping your operating system, browser and all your apps up to date prevents malware from infecting your device and protects against new threats as they emerge. Look for updates directly from the developers, whether they’re from Google, Apple, or Microsoft. Also, make sure you install all patches and security fixes released by your software vendor.
Install antivirus software.
Antivirus software scans files for viruses before they get anywhere near your computer. Modern virus scanners check incoming emails, too, looking for viruses hidden inside attachments. Antivirus programs can be complicated and hard to configure, though, so check out our dedicated section for more info.
Protect yourself online.
You may think you’ve got nothing to worry about while connected to public wifi because no one has hacked into your private network yet. But you should still take precautions to protect your privacy. Use strong passwords, use different passwords for different sites, consider enabling two-factor authentication (2FA) where possible, and, most importantly, avoid clicking links in emails or instant messages without verifying their safety first. Do yourself a favor and enable anti-virus software on your laptop, too.
If you follow these tips and download only reputable apps, you shouldn’t encounter any major problems. However, there still is a chance of getting infected with malware, especially if you visit dodgy areas of the web like Facebook pages run by cyber criminals who have already been caught red-handed. So always exercise caution when browsing the internet and never give away personal information such as credit card numbers or bank details. And remember that if you spot unusual activity on your account, contact your financial institution immediately.