It’s easy to think of your phone as just a phone, because not long ago, we were all yakking on our indestructible Nokia 3310, not even dreaming of the day we’d have mobile Internet access everywhere we went. Jolt forward to now and you might have a phone that’s not only always connected to the Internet, but that’s also more powerful than many computers that are still kicking around. We already know how important it is to protect our computers, but knowing that, and considering our phones are just small computers, it stands to reason that you should take care of your smart-phone with similar security precautions—especially when you probably use it to keep you connected to everything from email to social networks, all of which can contain plenty of personal info.
With a little help from an article by security gurus at Trend Micro, here are six things you can do to make your Android smartphone experience safer.
1. Use built-in features
Most Android phones have built-in security features. The first thing you can do is restrict access to anything on your phone by enabling a screen lock. This means that anyone hoping to access your phone will have to input the proper keystroke pattern, pin, or password—some phones even have facial recognition software. These options are generally found in your phone in settings > security and location. Be sure to use something memorable for your pin or password, you don’t want to forget it.
2. Don’t use unsecure networks
There’s often free Wi-Fi floating around all over the place, and it’s way faster than the 3G or 4G you might already have on your phone. But just because it’s available doesn’t mean you should always use it. There are always risks involved in accessing unsecure networks and people that are also accessing the network might be able to see things you don’t want them to. Some phones will bring up available networks automatically, some might even access these networks automatically. Be prudent about which networks you connect to and try to choose those that are password protected. You can also turn off your phone’s Wi-Fi in situations where you aren’t sure.
Leaving Bluetooth on all the time can leave your device vulnerable to attack. According to an article from security experts at Kaspersky, there are a handful of ways that attackers can get into your Bluetooth-enabled device. Some of these allow them to attack you with spam if they’re within thirty feet of your device, while some allow them to remotely access your phone and its features, which allows them to do things like place calls and send text messages or steal information. Kaspersky recommends that you turn off Bluetooth when you’re not using it—invisible or undetectable modes that are available on some phones simply don’t cut it.
4. Be careful downloading apps
A lot of cyber-criminals will “trojanize” apps. This means that by downloading a seemingly normal looking app, you’ve actually downloaded a virus that can do any number of things to your system, or even allow an attacker unrestricted access to everything on your phone. Also, just because an app came from the Google Play store doesn’t automatically make it safe. They do, however, tend to be much safer than apps downloaded from third-party sources, which you should do with extreme caution. Be sure to look at ratings and reviews of apps and maybe even do a search for the developer so that you can validate their credibility.
5. Give permissions cautiously
The first time you start using a new app you’ve downloaded (and often before you download it), it will generally ask for various permissions, which you can choose to grant or not. For example, Google Maps will want to you use your location, and other apps might want to access your Facebook page or things of that nature. If you grant a malicious app access to your stuff, it can determine your location, view saved text messages, send text messages from your phone, or even send your information to another system. Malicious apps generally ask for permission to send texts or have total access to the internet or online accounts, so be careful about granting permissions to these types of tasks. Giving the wrong apps access can cause troublesome outcomes, so make sure you look closely at which permissions your apps try to gain.
6. Use a mobile security app
Top anti-virus vendors like Norton, Trend Micro, and Kaspersky Labs have Android apps available for download in the Google Play store, which are priced anywhere from free for a trial or lite version to two bucks for a one year subscription to around fifteen bucks for a perpetual license. These tend to work very much like their desktop counterparts and assist you by offering many of the same security features. They can often be used to block malicious websites, find a phone or tablet if you lose it, protect from malware, and even scan other apps for viruses. If you’re not doing something to fend off attackers, you never know what kind of issues you can run into, so be sure to keep things safe. This is especially true if you make online purchases with your phone or use it to house sensitive information (even contact information can be quite sensitive).