How to protect your phone from being hacked
How can my phone be hacked?
With smartphones often being used for banking and other financial transactions, your phone’s data contains a treasure trove of lucrative information. There are two main ways hackers can get access to what's stored on your phone.
Hacking using malwareCyber criminals prefer to strike from a distance using software tools that do most of the work for them. In order to succeed, they rely on the weakest link in the smartphone security chain: you.
How to keep my phone safe from hackers?
Keep your phone’s OS and apps up to date
We often frown when we see there’s a security update waiting to be installed on our phone because that means it will be unusable for a few minutes (the horror!). But they exist for a reason. No software is perfect and vulnerabilities are often found months, if not years, after the initial release. Software updates close these holes and make sure there’s one fewer way hackers can get to your data.
The same thing is valid for the apps you have installed on your phone. They can just as easily become a backdoor to your phone and having the latest version is your best bet for safety.
Speaking of apps...
Don’t install shady apps with unnecessary permission requests
Countless apps exist for one sole purpose: to steal your data and sell it to the highest bidder. They often provide some basic functionality but can also lure people with extravagant claims like blood-pressure or temperature measuring. A good sign an app is trying to do more than it says is when during installation the required permissions include things it has no business accessing.
Your phone’s camera, microphones and contacts list are often prime targets for overreaching apps, so make sure they’ll actually be needed before giving them a carte blanche. Apps that double functions your phone can already perform, such as third-party camera or keyboard apps, should be avoided unless coming from very reputable developers.
You can always change permissions after an app has been installed, so if you’re suspicious of apps you already have, check and make changes accordingly. If an app refuses to work without those permissions, it might be time to find an alternative.
Set up a secure PIN and any available biometrics
If for some reason you don’t have a lock on your phone, add one right now! And make sure the number you’re using is unique and not your birth year, birth date or anything else related to you. Also, don’t use codes such as 123456 and don't be like Kanye West and his super-secure PIN:
Kanye’s iPhone password is literally “000000” pic.twitter.com/Ya7wIN9eVQ— Marcus Gilmer (@marcusgilmer) October 11, 2018
Don’t connect to random unsecured wi-fi networks
Even if your phone is perfectly safe, you can never be 100% sure where the traffic from the network is going through. Public access points can often be easily compromised and the data intercepted and used for malicious purposes.
Pretty much every website today uses the HTTPS, which is meant to protect against such man-in-the-middle attacks, but unless you really have to use a public Wi-Fi, it’s better to stay on your mobile data as an extra precaution.
Don’t open suspicious emails/links/files
The so-called phishing attacks are probably the most popular way users compromise themselves. Messages or emails made to look like they’re coming from your carrier or popular service you use often include links that urge you to verify something because otherwise there will be serious consequences!
Pay close attention to the sender’s email/phone number. Usually, it’s not hard to spot a fake one, as they don’t come from the official domains.
Files can be even more dangerous. Just recently, news broke that Jeff Bezos’ phone was hacked, allegedly through a file sent via WhatsApp. It’s best if you just ignore any files that are coming from anyone who isn’t your friend.
Even that’s not a guarantee, however. Sometimes messaging services get compromised and messages are being sent from users without them even knowing (we’re looking at you, Skype). So if you receive a link from someone you don’t talk to often, make sure they’ve actually sent it before opening it.
Avoid using public charging stations
Of course, both iPhones and Android phones have defenses against attacks coming from the charging port, but it’s not far fetched to assume that people might accidentally click “Trust” when plugging their phone and have their data siphoned.
Plus, hackers are often one step ahead so you never know what new method they’ve come up with. If you find yourself with a dead battery often, it’s better to keep a power bank with you.
Use features that keep your phone unlocked wisely
Android has a feature that’s very convenient but can pose a potential security risk. It allows you to skip PIN input/biometrics whenever your phone is connected to certain Bluetooth devices: for example your car, a pair of wireless headphones or a smartwatch.
But if someone gets their hands on your device without you noticing, they can stay within Bluetooth range and do all sorts of damage while you’re blissfully unaware. It’s best to use such features with devices you have at home and not ones you carry around with you.