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How to Keep Your Phone Secure and Protect Your Privacy

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Any form of security or protection is only as good as its weakest link. When it comes to cybersecurity, that weakest link is almost always people. As convenient as it is to blame security breaches on smartphone or computer operating systems, people are usually the ones to blame for security mishaps. It doesn’t matter whether your computer web browser is vulnerable to viruses if you download and install spyware yourself because you clicked on some shady ad that said it would speed up your computer if you did so. Malware doesn’t need to use a back door to gain access to your contacts if you grant it permission when it asks. Even if you are using a carrier-branded phone that is way behind on security patches, there are still a lot of things you can do to protect your info. By the same token, even if you are on an iPhone or Pixel that is completely up to date, your data can still be compromised if you aren’t paying attention. Here are some things everyone should do to stay as safe as possible.

Update Your Phone to the Newest Version

No operating system is invulnerable, and new vulnerabilities in iOS and Android are discovered all the time. However, these exploits are typically patched by Apple and Google before any major outbreaks of malware or spyware ever surface. However, a large portion of Android devices are way behind on security patches. As of March 2017, 66% of active Android devices were running on a version of Android over two years old. This means that, even though Google has patched many flaws, there is a huge number of vulnerable phones out there for apps to exploit. So, if you can, always update your phone as soon as you can. Unfortunately, phone manufacturers and carriers often take their time issuing security updates to their phones (if they do at all). You can check out how up to date you are in the settings on iOS and Android devices. Recent versions of Android even tell you which month’s security patches you most recently received. (This information can be found in the Phone Status section of the settings.)

The Android Phone Status section in the settings will let you know how up to date you are.

Pay Attention to App Permissions

All the security patches in the world won’t be able to stop an app from spying on you if you grant it permission which, unfortunately, is very common. The spam text messages you get from time to time (you get those too, right?) are most likely the result of a friend or family member downloading a sketchy app that wanted access to their entire contacts list—and them giving it. To protect against this, iOS (under the Privacy settings) and Android (under Permissions) give you extensive control over what parts of your phone different apps have access to. Don’t think Facebook Messenger should have access to your microphone or that photo editing app needs your location? Easy enough to turn that off. Depending on what you’re denying, this may or may not impact an app’s capabilities when in use (denying Instagram access to both your photo gallery and camera may be a bad idea), but the operating system will let you try.

Managing which apps have access to certain parts of your phone is easy on Android and iOS.

It’s always a good idea to check this section regularly, because it might surprise you to what some apps have been given access. Also, if you happen to be on a phone that is way behind on security patches, you shouldn’t assume that these will always work. It’s possible for apps to use known vulnerabilities to circumvent app permissions; if you are significantly behind, it’s better to just not install any apps from shady developers, if an app doesn’t have tons of downloads, it’s better to just stay away.

Don’t Install Shady Apps

In fact, this is true whether you are up to date or not. It’s probably not a good idea to install an app you have never heard of that wants access to most of your phone. It is always a good idea to check reviews for apps and see how many people have downloaded and used an app. Additionally, there are categories of apps that you really should just completely stay away from. These include:

Battery Boosting Apps: Android and iOS have extensive battery management settings, and there is really nothing these can do that your phone can’t do better.

RAM boosting apps: Installing an app will not boost your RAM, but the idea gives developers great excuse to have their app always run in the background and track what you do.

Flashlight Apps: Seriously, iOS and Android have a flashlight mode built in.

Stick to Google Play or Apple App Store for Your Apps

iOS users don’t have much of a choice in this regard, but Android users can install apps they download through web browsers and even install competing app stores. This is great if you are the type of person who enjoys writing your own apps, but for the majority of users, its best to stick to the official app stores. Apple and Google regularly check their respective stores for malware. Google has recently stepped up its game when it comes to scanning apps in Google Play for malicious code and has significantly reduced the number of apps in its store that use known security vulnerabilities. So, unless you have a very good reason, stick to installing apps only from official sources.

Lock your Home Screen with a Passcode or Fingerprint

This one might seem like a no-brainer to most, but a significant number of people have no passcode or fingerprint lock on their smartphones. Given that you are far more likely to lose your phone than to have it hacked into, this is one of the most important things you can do to protect your security. Since most smartphones these days have fingerprint readers, it’s easier than it has ever been. Also, if you use a passcode instead, please don’t use 1234.

So, there you have it! By keeping your phone up to date, managing app permissions, steering clear of shady apps and app stores, and keeping your home screen locked, you can do a lot to ensure your digital life stays secure.

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