Today, about 3.5 billion people globally own a smartphone. Mobile device ownership is expected to grow further over the next few years. High smartphone penetration has introduced a new kind of problem for smartphone owners: cybersecurity. Thanks to the ubiquity of these handheld devices, more personal and business information is now stored on smartphones and cyber criminals will stop at nothing to get access to this valuable data. Here are some of the most common mobile security threats users face.
Common Mobile Security Thefts
The single greatest threat to security comes from physical theft or loss of devices such as smartphones and tablets. Mobile devices are small and portable hence easy to lose or misplace. Dozens of mobile devices are lost every day. Most of them end up in the hands of cyber criminals who may try to access the data stored in these devices. It’s easier to hack into a mobile device and access the information therein when you have the said device in your possession.
One of the most common methods hackers use to spread malware is through malicious apps. Malicious apps target both Android and iOS devices and are commonly found in third-party vendors where upload rules are more relaxed. Some malicious apps slip through the screening process and end up in the official app store. Once installed, these apps will be used to spy on you, steal data, and install malware on your device.
Public Wi-Fi networks allow mobile users to access their email, social media, and other online services on the go. The problem is that most public Wi-Fi networks are unsecured, meaning that they don’t have any security encryption whatsoever. The lack of security allows hackers to set fake access points and intercept web traffic and since the data is unencrypted, the cyber criminals can access and steal any information that is being transmitted over the network.
Vulnerabilities in the mobile operating systems make one of the biggest security threats users face. While both iOS and Android devices are at risk, research shows that the latter is more vulnerable. A recent survey shows that over one billion Android devices are vulnerable to mobile security threats mostly due to a lack of security updates. The report based on Google’s data shows that about 40% of Android devices are not receiving vital security updates.
Mobile apps contain security flaws that make them susceptible to leaking personal data and other confidential information. Many fraudulent apps collect and send personal data to a remote server where it is mined by advertisers and cyber criminals. In most cases, data leakage arising from mobile apps results from unchecked app permissions. Unintentional data leakage poses a great cybersecurity risk for mobile users who grant apps permissions without checking security.
How to Secure Your Mobile Device
There’s a lot of sensitive data (personal and business) stored on or accessible via mobile devices. However, mobile security does not get much attention despite the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets. Mobile security threats such as data leakage, unsafe Wi-Fi connections, and theft are on the rise and will continue to increase as mobile ownership grows. Here are a few tips to help you secure your mobile device.
#1 Use a VPN
You are probably familiar with the risks of public Wi-Fi networks by now. There are numerous cases where users have been hacked when using public Wi-Fi networks to access the internet, which is why it’s best to avoid them. If you must connect to an unsecured network, use a VPN. Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN creates a secret tunnel between you and the internet which encrypts your connection effectively hiding your browsing activity from hackers, ISPs, and the government.
#2 Use Antivirus Software
Antivirus programs are designed to detect and remove malicious software from your device. Antivirus software can scan downloads and block files that contain malware and potentially unwanted programs (PUPs). Using reliable antivirus software will protect your mobile device against viruses, trojans, rootkits, spyware, adware, ransomware, and other malicious software. Set your antivirus program to update automatically so that it can protect your device against the newest threats.
#3 Email Security
Social engineering tactics such as a phishing attempt to trick people into exposing sensitive information such as login credentials, banking and credit details, etc. The most common type of phishing uses emails claiming to be coming from trusted sources such as your bank. Using email security tools can help you filter phishing emails and block them before they compromise your smartphone.
#4 Download Apps from Trusted Sources
One of the easiest ways to get your device infected with malware is by downloading apps from unofficial app stores. Third-party app vendors don’t have strict upload rules, which makes it easy for hackers to sneak malicious apps into their platforms. Only download your apps from official app stores such as Google Play Store and Apple’s Appstore to protect your device from malicious apps and malware infection. Apps on the official store have been vetted by the company and are highly likely to be safe.
#5 Check App Permissions
Every time you install an app onto your phone, you’re asked to allow that application certain permissions. These include access to contacts, messages, camera, microphone, etc. As stated earlier in the article, failing to control your app permissions can easily result in unintentional data leakage. When installing an app, make sure that you read and understand app permissions before you grant them. Only grant permissions that are necessary for the app to function properly.
#6 Set a Passcode
It’s common for smartphones and tablets to go missing, it happens all the time. However, losing your mobile device can be a mobile security threat if the device falls in the hands of a cybercriminal. That’s why you need to have protections such as passcode and other authentication measures in place. Without a passcode, a hacker can easily break into your smartphone and steal data. Most importantly, don’t leave your smartphone or tablet unattended when you are out in public.
#7 Enable Data Encryption
Your data is most vulnerable when it’s being transferred over the internet. Use encryption to protect sensitive information on your device from cybercriminals and other online threats. Encryption is the process of making data unreadable. Encryption software scrambles your data into code unrecognizable to anyone who may try to intercept it as it travels between servers. Today’s smartphones have encryption built-in and enabled by default. Check your device to ensure that the encryption feature is enabled.
#8 Keep Your Phone Up to Date
Your mobile operating system may contain security vulnerabilities that expose your data. The manufacturers protect users by periodically releasing software updates to patch these vulnerabilities. Update your software regularly — including your antivirus, social media apps, and operating system — to protect your device against mobile security threats. Set your device to update automatically to make sure that you are always running the latest versions.
Accounting for half of web traffic in 2019, mobile devices have become very popular in recent years. Modern smartphones are as powerful as computers but more versatile, allowing users great functionality. Due to the vast amounts of personal data, they have access to and somewhat lax security, mobile devices have become a favorite target for cybervcriminals. Users must take it upon themselves to defend against the aforementioned mobile security threats by taking advantage of these mobile security tips.