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How to Secure Your Smartphone from Hackers: A Step-By-Step Guide

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Do you use your smartphone for everything? Most of us do. It stores our most private conversations, financial information, personal photos, and even tracks our location. So why don‘t we secure our phones like we do our PCs and homes? Hacking smartphones is big business for cybercriminals. The stakes are high, but the barriers are low.

I‘ll walk you through the growing threats, security myths vs. facts, and a 10-step game plan to lock down your mobile device. Follow these tips and you can use your smartphone safely and confidently.

Why You Should Secure Your Phone Now

Think mobile threats are overblown? Don‘t be so sure. Smartphones are increasingly attractive targets for several reasons:

More usage: Mobile devices account for over half of global website traffic. We shop, bank, and browse on our phones.

More data: The average mobile user has over 100 apps installed, with dozens in active use. This gives hackers broad access to personal information.

Lower barriers: It‘s easier to create and distribute mobile malware than traditional computer viruses and Trojans. A flood of cheap devices with lax controls makes this worse.

Greater payoff: Stealing identities, financial data, and passwords from mobiles can be extremely lucrative for hackers.

As a result, mobile threats are surging worldwide:

  • 50% increase in mobile malware attacks in first half of 2019 compared to 2018 (McAfee)
  • 33% of companies had a mobile security breach in 2019 (Verizon)
  • 25% increase in enterprise mobile phishing attacks since 2018 (Lookout)

It‘s not just large companies at risk – individuals are prime targets. Of those whose identities were stolen in 2019:

  • 1 in 3 had info taken from a mobile device (Javelin Strategy)
  • 13% were victims of mobile account takeovers (Javelin Strategy)

Hackers won‘t slow down. You need to start securing your smartphone now before you become the next victim.

Mobile Security Myths vs. Facts

Before we dive into the steps, let‘s clear up some common mobile security myths:

Myth: iPhones can‘t get malware or viruses.

Fact: While iPhones are generally more secure, malware like Xavier has shown they are vulnerable too.

Myth: Public WiFi is safe if you don‘t enter passwords.

Fact: Hackers on open networks can intercept unencrypted data like emails and messages.

Myth: Downloading from app stores means no malware risk.

Fact: Malicious apps still slip into official stores like Google Play.

Myth: Two-factor authentication prevents all attacks.

Fact: Sophisticated phishing scams can intercept 2FA codes sent by SMS.

Myth: Backups make malware removal easy.

Fact: Backed up data could still contain malware and get re-infected if restored.

Now let‘s cover the top ways to truly protect your smartphone.

10 Steps to Lock Down Your Mobile Security

Follow this mobile security plan to keep hackers at bay:

1. Use Strong Passwords

The first line of defense for your phone is a strong password.

  • Use random passwords for each account – at least 12 characters long with upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.

  • Avoid common words, names, dates, or patterns.

  • Store passwords in a trusted password manager like LastPass or 1Password.

  • Change passwords every 90 days.

Weak passwords can be guessed in seconds by hacking software. A strong, unique password stops criminals in their tracks. Enable fingerprint or face unlock for quick access.

2. Install Updates Immediately

Mobile operating system and app updates often contain vital security patches. Don‘t ignore these updates – install them right away.

Set your device settings to auto-update apps when new releases arrive. On iOS, enable automatic updates in Settings > General > Software Update. On Android, enable auto-updates in the Google Play store app.

Patches fix known vulnerabilities that hackers exploit. Staying updated blocks common attack vectors.

3. Enable Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication (2FA) requires providing two forms of identity verification when logging into an account. Common options include:

  • Codes sent via SMS text message
  • Random codes from an authenticator app
  • Biometric scans like fingerprint or face match

With 2FA enabled, stealing a password alone won‘t give hackers access. They need physical possession of your phone too. Enable 2FA on these critical accounts:

  • Email
  • Financial accounts
  • Social media
  • Cloud storage
  • Government portals

SMS 2FA can be intercepted, so use an authenticator app when available. Popular options include Authy, Google Authenticator, and Duo Mobile.

4. Only Install Apps from Trusted Sources

The Google Play Store and Apple App Store screen apps for malware, but malicious ones can still slip through. Additional precautions include:

  • Vet app developers – are they well-known and reputable? Check reviews carefully.
  • Only install apps from official stores like Google Play and avoid third-party sources.
  • Grant minimum permissions needed. Don‘t just hit "accept."
  • Install antivirus software like Bitdefender Mobile Security or Lookout to scan new apps.

Also beware of phishing scams trying to trick you into installing malware. Verify links and senders before downloading anything.

5. Use Secure WiFi and VPNs

Free public WiFi is convenient but hazardous to your security:

  • Hackers create fake hotspots to intercept connections.
  • Unencrypted traffic on public networks is easy to view.
  • Connecting to public networks reduces firewall protection.

Use trusted networks whenever possible, like home WiFi. On public networks, a virtual private network (VPN) encrypts your connection:

  • VPNs use secure protocols like OpenVPN or IKEv2.
  • Encrypted tunnels prevent snooping and data theft.
  • Top services include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and TunnelBear.

Turn off auto-connect for public WiFi and Bluetooth when not in use. Only join trusted networks manually.

6. Limit App Permissions

Be choosy about which apps get access to location, contacts, microphone, camera, and SMS. Only allow apps permissions relevant to their purpose.

Check and manage app permissions under device settings:

  • iOS: Settings > Privacy > Location Services (or other categories)
  • Android: Settings > Apps & Notifications > App Permissions

Disable location services for all non-essential apps. Turn off microphone and camera access when not in use.

7. Avoid Public Charging Stations

Hackers can modify public USB charging stations to install malware, steal data, and gather personal information from smartphones.

Only use AC power outlets in public when possible. Bring your own car charger for use in taxis, Ubers, and rental cars.

If you must use a USB station, consider devices like SyncStop that block data transmission or verify it‘s from a trusted provider like an airport or hotel.

8. Secure Your Home WiFi Network

Your home WiFi router guards the doorway to your connected home. Weak security puts all devices at risk:

  • Change the default admin password – use a random 20+ character passphrase.
  • Hide your SSID so the network doesn‘t broadcast its name.
  • Use WPA3 encryption if available, or WPA2 as a minimum.
  • Disable WPS and remote admin if not needed.
  • Place the router centrally to prevent signal leakage outside.

Also consider routing all traffic through a VPN for added encryption.

9. Back Up Your Data

Back up your smartphone data regularly to preserve valuable memories, records, and info in case of loss or theft. Options include:

  • Cloud services like iCloud or Google Drive
  • Sync to a computer
  • External hard drive or SD card

But don‘t stop there. Make sure backups are encrypted with strong passwords to prevent access. Test backups frequently by wiping and restoring a phone.

Backups ease recovery but shouldn‘t be a replacement for security best practices.

10. Install Security Updates Asap

We covered this earlier, but it bears repeating – consistently installing security updates is absolutely critical for blocking emerging threats.

Mobile operating systems and apps now make security patches available over-the-air. Take a few minutes whenever notifications pop up to update right away.

Prioritize alerts from the OS, Chrome, Safari, messaging apps, social apps, and security tools. Don‘t ignore them!

How to Know if Your Phone Has Been Hacked

If you suspect your mobile device has been compromised, here are some signs to watch for:

  • Sudden battery drain, slowdowns, and crashes – indicators of malware
  • Popup ads appear randomly when browsing
  • You suddenly lose mobile data coverage
  • Friends report spam texts sent from your number
  • Credit card transactions you don‘t recognize
  • Login emails and password reset notices for accounts you didn‘t initiate
  • Suspicious app permissions you didn‘t authorize

If you observe any of these issues, scan with antivirus software then reset your device to factory settings if needed. Change all passwords from a different trusted device. Contact providers to report potential account takeovers.

Take Mobile Security Seriously

Smartphones contain your most vital personal and financial data. Unfortunately, mobile threats are greater than ever. Stay vigilant and take precautions now to avoid becoming the next victim.

Implement the security steps outlined here to protect your smartphone and accounts. Commit to making mobile security part of your daily routine going forward. Your privacy, identity, and finances will thank you.

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