How To Keep Your Mobile Phone Protected

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The year 2000 will go down in history as the year the Ericsson R380 model came onto the market, and changed the world forever. It became the first “smartphone” in the world. The smartphone market has inevitably grown over the years - and so have the security threats.

Before the Ericsson R380, Nokia and Motorola had mobile phones with internet capabilities, but R380 gave birth to the Symbian operating system. It was a revolution at the time. Nokia soon grabbed Symbian Ltd, and made smartphone models that were strong in the market for many years.  

What developers did not anticipate was that malware was more clever than smartphones. It has become paramount to tighten security from both the user and the manufacturer’s end.

The advancement of smartphone malware

The Symbian Worm

The idea that smartphones were impervious to infections by virus became a myth in 2004 when a team of programmers, under the code name 29A, created the first smartphone virus.

Cabir virus or “Caribe” was the first, and was specifically designed for the Symbian operating system. It was classified as a worm that can transfer through Bluetooth. The 29A team claimed the Cabir project was an exercise to expose the vulnerability of the smartphone, and motivate the development of security measures to fit them.

The Windows Assailant

Users gradually began to take notice of the Windows mobile operating system, Windows CE. Within a month, WinCE Brador, the first backdoor program, and WinCE Duts, the first file infector virus delivered great blows to Windows CE.

Duts pinpoints the phone’s root directory and contaminate executable files. Brador opens the port of the smartphone, allowing a remote user to access sensitive files like credit card numbers and addresses. These continued attacks made smartphone users realize they were just as vulnerable as PC users, and rethink the security of their mobile devices.

The modern defenses for smartphones

There was a need for programmers to fight back using an antivirus program. Sadly, only about fourteen percent of Americans see the need to install an antivirus program on their smartphone.

Worms are the most damaging malware form, as they self-replicate and can affect so many devices, as well as spread at an amazing speed. The only limitation this virus has is that the smartphone user will need to download and launch it before the damage can be done. Therefore, the first step to protecting yourself from a virus is to get educated on the way they spread. There are things you can do to keep your mobile phone protected, and these are listed below.

1. Restrict geolocation access

Geolocation is one of the coolest features available to smartphones which can be used against you. Once the geolocation is on, apps will be able to track your physical location. This allows hackers to gain access to your whereabouts.

Only grant the geolocation permission to apps that really need them to tailor your preference. Keeping it on always is a bad idea. There are apps that have absolutely no reason to demand geolocation permission, but still do so.

2. Only install apps from a trusted source

When you are installing an app, it usually asks you to grant permissions like access to camera, read files or use the microphone. Some of these permissions are legitimate to allow the app perform optimally, but they are potentially open to abuse.

When you download from a trusted source like play store for Android users you tend to lower your risk. This is because Google has an app-vetting process that keeps away malicious apps. Since Android lets you install apps from third-party sources, other App stores may not have a vetting process which makes it easier for rogue apps to gain access to your phone.

3. Give intruders a hard time getting in

A thief can physically gain access to your phone and cause untold damage. For example, many people’s email is littered with personal information which the intruder can use against them. To prevent unwarranted access, keep your smartphone locked when not in use.

Newer smartphones offer fingerprint and face recognition. The traditional six-digit passcode is still a better option. It is easy to bypass the newer lock techniques. Also, be wary of “smart unlock” features that automatically unlocks your phone when at home or close to other devices. Intruders can use it to bypass your lock codes.

4. Keep your phone up-to-date

The constant update notifications can be annoying because they interrupt the use of your smartphone. These routine updates allow manufacturers to initiate “patches” to deal with vulnerabilities. This applies to apps too.

Many successful hacks abuse weaknesses which patches have already taken care of. Also, during update releases, the previous loopholes are made public. When you fail to install the updates, you are unnecessarily exposing yourself to data theft.

5. Use public Wi-Fi with discretion

Using a public wireless network is a risky adventure. Many people know this, but may not realize the severity of the problem. When you are on an open network, anyone in the vicinity can snoop into your online activities. If you are in doubt about a wireless network, it is best not to connect to it.

Your phone’s mobile network is safe enough. You can also make use of a VPN tool like TunnelBear or CyberGhost. They route your traffic through encrypted channels that make it difficult for snoopers to know what you are up to.

6. Be shy with cameras

The camera is probably the feature on your phone which you use the most. It allows you to freeze interesting moments but also serves as an eye to hackers and cyber criminals when hijacked.

When hackers gain control of your phone’s camera, they use it to monitor your location or take shots of sensitive information which can be used against you. There are lots of spy apps out there. So, be wary what you download and install on your phone.

7. Invest in smart devices

Smart devices like Android Wear and Apple Watch warn you as soon as they lose Bluetooth connection with your phone. This kind of notification in a public place can inform you when someone picks your pocket, and makes off with your phone.

Normally, the device should be in less than 50 meters radius before the connection drops. This notification gives you the chance to ring your phone and hopefully know who the culprit is. If the thief fails to drop it, you have the chance to lock it before there is an attempt to steal your data.

8. Alter your personal information

Almost everyone has a social media account. What hackers often need to reset your password is your personal detail like date of birth, mother’s maiden name, and hometown. These are the information we willingly give out on social media like Facebook.

You can keep yourself safe by fictionalizing your details on social media. When you do this, be sure to keep a record of the information you gave, or you may end up locking yourself out of your own account.

Smartphone security has become a major issue since the birth of Cabir virus in 2004. Education remains the best means of keeping yourself safe from viruses and hackers. All the security software in the world, app restrictions, and updates will be useless if the smartphone user doesn’t know how to use them.

Have you had an incident where your smartphone was hacked? We would like to hear your story. If you have not had such an ugly experience, tell us the steps you use to protect yourself in the comment box.

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