We store all kinds of data in our phones – contacts, photos, videos, personal data, documents. We use numerous apps for making our lives easy – banking, insurance, online shopping, stocks, real estate. We rely on our phones for communication and socializing – chatting, video calling, social media, emails, professional groups… the list of uses is endless.
No doubt, smartphones are an inseparable part of our lives. If our phone is taken away from us for even a day, it feels like being deprived of a basic need.
“If your phone is lost or stolen, your data, information, and identity are at risk!“
For instance, attackers can:
- Access photos and videos and use them unethically.
- Access the contacts on the phone and harass them by crank calls, or sending unethical or threatening messages, or worse.
- We log in to apps and never log out. On some apps like those of online shopping or food delivery, we save our card details. This can be used by the person to order stuff for themselves at our expense.
- In the worst case, the phone could be used in devastating and terrible public situations that can land one in serious trouble with the law.
Hackers, cyberpunks, and cyber terrorists commit criminal acts for extorting money, controlling lives, or damaging a person’s reputation. They can do this if they are able to hack into our phones, and they are constantly on the hunt for searching and exploiting vulnerable phones.
Mobile data, WiFi, websites, and mobile apps – stuff that we absolutely need – have made it possible and easier for hackers to try and get access to our phones.
Below are some of the methods hackers use to gain access to phones:
Hackers send email or text messages containing a link or image asking that you click on it to get something or do an action.
They impersonate a company, usually one that a person may have a professional relationship with. The email or text message bears a likeness to any email or message sent genuinely by the company.
However, the content they send has a virus or malware that, if clicked on, will get access to all information on your phone or remotely control your phone.
“Take extra care opening links from unknown source. Such links could carry malwares.”
This attack is similar to phishing. However, with spamming, you are likely to receive multiple emails or messages in a short duration of time.
The sender is not a physical person but from software or “bot” used for the sole purpose of generating thousands of messages at a time and targeting multiple phone numbers.
In spam attacks, a hacker hopes that a person may mistakenly click open an email or message and the content within, downloading the virus or hacking software to the phone.
Hackers use alluring messages like you have won a ton of money, or a freebie, or been shortlisted for vacation, etc., to make it attractive for their targets to act on such emails and messages.
Sim Card Swapping
A hacker calls up your network provider, pretends to be you, spins a story like a phone is lost, and asks for a replacement SIM.
If they successfully convince the provider they are you, they get the replacement SIM card, and your original SIM gets deactivated.
So now, effectively, the hacker gets access to your emails, contacts, messages, content on drives, etc.
Bluetooth or WiFi Hacking
If a hacker is within range of your phone and the Bluetooth on your phone is activated, the hacker can then connect to your phone and access all data within. Hackers usually try this attack in crowded areas.
A similar goes for hacking attempts on phones connected to free public WiFi.
Ways to Secure Your Smartphones
So, what should each person do to help keep their smartphone or other mobile devices secure?
What are some of the common and effective precautions that mobile phone users should adopt that can go a long way in keeping their phones, and consequently themselves, safe?
Here are the precautionary measures we should follow:
- Secure your phone with a password. Use a numeric or pattern passkey or the more enhanced fingerprint or facial recognition.
- Enable auto-lock. Your phone is at great risk if auto-lock is not enabled, especially if you keep it unattended in the presence of other people.
- Download apps from authentic sources like Google Play Store or Apple App Store. Do not download via any links sent to you or from third-party app stores. Read reviews of apps before you download them to check if there are multiple complaints regarding security. Statistics show that apps are hotspots for hackers to insert malware into.
- Be wary of calls from unknown persons asking for your personal details like date of birth, email address, residential address, passport number, etc. Question the caller who they are, where they are calling from, and why they need this information.
- Do not click on links sent via email or text message as mentioned above; they can be phishing or spam. Do not do this even if the message is from persons you know – a family member or friend – as they may have forwarded without knowing themselves, or their phone could be hacked.
- Browse authentic and secure websites.
- Refrain from using free public WiFi, or activating Bluetooth in public places, for reasons mentioned above where your phone could be at risk of hackers connecting to it.
Update the OS Regularly
Install the updates released by your smartphone company and/or operating system provider. They often contain the latest security patches released to protect against new threats. Do not keep postponing the updates only because they take up memory and need time to install.
We all download countless apps for personal/professional needs and entertainment, but how many of us consciously install anti-virus?
Your phone deserves similar protection as your laptop or computer. Several good and reliable anti-virus apps for smartphones are available.
Refrain From Jailbreaking and Rooting
Trying to bypass your phone’s standard configuration results in the loss of most security settings built into the phone.
These activities place your phone at undue risk, especially from certain malware that specifically tries to get root access. Jailbreaking/rooting also further prevents your phone from getting the regular OS updates rolled out by the providers.
Setup Remote Wipe
This feature allows you to wipe all data from your phone remotely if it gets stolen or lost.
Report a Lost/Stolen Device Immediately
Let your network provider know so they can block your phone and stop anyone else from using it. Then, retrieve your phone’s IMEI number and file a report with the local police station.
These couple of steps are extremely important to safeguard yourself as, firstly, you do not continue paying for services (calls, messages, etc.) that you are not using; and secondly, you are not responsible in case your phone has been used for harmful and malicious activities after it was stolen.
A smartphone contains a wealth of data and information. If it falls into the wrong hands, there is no limit to the damage it can cause.