silver lock on a laptop

Six Tips for Protecting Your Personal Information Away From Home

You may have security procedures in place for protecting your computer data at home. But what about the little computer you carry around in your pocket or purse? Most of us spend more time on our smartphone or tablet than on a home computer. Think about the data being compiled on your mobile devices through emails, texts, calls, participating in social media and browsing or purchasing merchandise on the Internet. If you don’t take measures to protect your mobile devices, thieves can tap into your call logs, contacts, browsing history, social media apps, financial information, saved passwords, personal information and photos.

Here are six tips to protect your mobile tech.

1. Act Before Your Device is Lost or Stolen
iOS, Android and Windows phones and most devices have a “find my phone” or “find my device” feature built in; you just have to enable it in settings. From there, you can suspend or delete your personal information so it cannot be stolen. In iOS and Windows devices, these features are under settings. Android users will find it in the Android Device Manager. Before you get separated from your device, go into these settings and make sure the feature is on.

Some carriers offer services to locate a lost or stolen phone and protect data. For example, Verizon’s Total Mobile Protection plan enables you to lock the phone or delete data remotely. The service (currently $11 per month) is able to sound a loud tone on your phone from another phone or device, help you find your phone on a map, or if all else fails, replace your device.

Multiple small white locks on blue background

2. Physically Protect Your Device
Lost or stolen mobile devices were the leading cause of data breaches in the past decade, according to a report released last year by Bitglass. It is easy to set a pin or password protected lock screen on a device or tablet, yet a third of owners never do so. A co-worker or family member could pick up your device and snoop, or a thief could take it from your car, pocket or purse. There is no excuse not to have this basic layer of protection on your device. It can be added in the settings menu. Don’t use a password or pin that is easy to guess, such as “password” or “0000” or “1234.” Make sure your device is set to lock after a few minutes of inactivity. You don’t want to give thieves a long window of time to access your information.

It is possible for a thief to access information on your phone through Bluetooth, the wireless technology that allows data to be exchanged over short distances. Wireless headsets and ear buds are particularly vulnerable to Bluetooth hacking. While manufacturers have been working to minimize Bluetooth vulnerabilities, such as Bluejacking or Bluebugging which both involve unauthorized access of a Bluetooth enabled device, the best protection is to turn Bluetooth off when you don’t need it, or set your device to “non-discoverable” if you do have it on. According to a study by Cisco, the average U.S. consumer will be connected to five Bluetooth devices in 2017. Be aware of your various connected devices and take advantage of manufacturers security updates and patches.

3. Take Precautions with Data
Make sure all personal data, including account information is completely removed from the device. This is an important if you’re turning in an old phone for an update.

All handheld portable electronics include a feature that allows you to perform a hard or factory reset that returns the unit to the same state as when you purchased it and removes all data. Hard reset techniques vary by device. To find out how to perform this function, check the instruction manual or use Google, Yahoo, or Bing to search for “hard reset,” followed by the brand or model of your particular hardware. Follow the simple instructions and check to make sure all personal data is gone. You should also remove any added memory chips or cards.

4. Beware of Malicious Apps
New malicious apps are created all the time, and can infect your device and steal your personal and financial information. Once your phone is infected, a bad app can even use your contact list to spread a virus to friends and family. You can avoid most malicious apps by only downloading from trusted sites such as Google Play Store, Apple iTunes or Microsoft’s Windows Store. But that is not a guarantee it’s safe.

Top cybersecurity firm SnoopWall warns consumers that the 10 most downloaded flashlight apps in the Google Play store all use spyware. What may seem like a convenient flashlight is actually torching privacy by accessing contact lists and photos, writing programs and hacking mobile banking information. If you have a flashlight app on your phone, it is recommended that you delete it, and also immediately change your banking password.

To make sure you don’t accidentally install “untrusted” apps, go to Settings, then Security and uncheck the “Unknown Sources” option. You should also check the “Verify Apps” option if you have it.

Before downloading an app from any source, read consumer reviews, or Google the app and read comments from other people who use the app. Visit the app’s official website to confirm it’s trustworthy and not a fake copy. Even legitimate apps can swipe information from your phone that you might not want to share. Do I want to allow a productivity app to access all of my Facebook contacts or my camera? No. Check the app’s permissions and privacy policy before you install it to see what information is collected for what purpose.

White key in colorful data
Person using laptop with security

5. Avoid Public Wi-Fi Networks
Public Wi-Fi is full of vulnerabilities. Basically, you are accessing an open network that you don’t control. Don’t use public Wi-Fi for transmitting sensitive information, such as sites you log in with a password, transactions with a credit card or conducting any online banking.

If you must do these functions while you’re out, it is safer to use your data plan, and go directly to the company website you are accessing. You can also use an encryption service.

6. Stay Away from Juice Jackers
That free charging station at the airport or mall might seem like a lifesaver if your phone is dead, but charging stations are a popular hacking method that targets phones running low on battery. When you charge your phone or tablet, you create a portal for hackers to infect your device, and it can take less than a minute. It is much safer to invest in a portable battery and avoid public charging stations.

Stay safe out there. Remember that your phone and tablet are computers, so protect them and your data as you would your home computer. Protect your devices physically, and take immediate action if your gadget is lost or stolen. Being armed with up-to-date knowledge is the best way to have an edge over thieves out to steal your information.

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