Smartphones are a wonderful way of keeping all our data and entertainment in one convenient package, but they also carry some risk. As a single, easily stolen device, they represent a way for criminals to get away with huge chunks of your personal information in one fell swoop. Here are some tips to keep that fate from befalling you.
Lock the Phone
Image via Flickr by Ervins Strauhmanis
The first step to phone security on a new smartphone is to set up the lock screen. Lock screens hold the smartphone’s functions behind a numeric access code. Many phones will prompt you to create one during setup; if yours does not, don’t forget to find the lock option in your settings menus. And if you have any reason to believe the passcode is out on the web, change it immediately.
Use a Strong Password
Of course, locking your phone isn’t going to do a lot of good if your password is easy to guess. Common numeric passwords include parts of your social security number or your birthdate, either backwards or forwards. Someone who has access to both your phone and your wallet or purse could conceivably break that code very quickly. Instead, try to find a string of numbers and letters that are unrelated to you and your interests. Ideally, this should be a code that means something to you, but random characters are acceptable if you can remember them. Don’t write your passwords on anything you carry on your person.
Block Your Number
Unless you like the idea of handing out your phone number to any person you need to call for any reason, you should know how to block your phone number when dialing out. The most time-honored way to do this is to dial *67 before dialing the number you want to call, which will make your phone show up as “unknown” on the other end. Some phones or service providers offer more complex number blocking schemes.
Use VPNs to Transmit Data
If you are concerned with your online activities being traced to your device, you should consider setting up a VPN. This stands for Virtual Private Network, and a properly set up VPN connects to the internet indirectly, moving through several web sites and obfuscating your IP address in the process. At the same time, a VPN can slow down your web browsing, since moving between all those servers is not instantaneous. Several commercial VPN programs exist, though you should pay close attention to the terms of the software, as some of them keep a log of your activities.
Use Android Device Manager
Nobody wants their expensive technological devices stolen, especially when they carry as much potentially salable personal data as a modern smartphone does. If you are worried about your phone or other Android device being stolen by the unscrupulous, you should make use of the Android Device Manager, an online service provided by Google. The device manager tracks all associated Android devices as long as they are currently connected to the internet. You can use the manager to find the location of a missing phone, to activate the ringer in case you need to dig it out of your couch, or to lock and erase the phone, rendering it useless to a thief.
Find an Encryption Scheme
Secure transmission is a nice idea, but sometimes even the most secure network is not enough. If you need even more peace of mind than that provided by VPNs and trusted networks, you can use encryption to protect your valuable data in transmission. Encryption translates your data into a set of cipher text, encoded in such a way as to make it unusable to anyone who does not have the key to the encryption scheme. Most forms of messaging use some type of encryption, but it is usually of the server-based variety. Apps that encode your communications with end-to-end schemes will provide more security.
At the end of the day, no protection scheme makes up for a careless user. Pay attention to your situation, and then use any or all of these methods to add to your privacy protection.