Mobile device security: How to protect your smartphone

Safe devices

Answering email, surfing the web, socialising or shopping online – with a smartphone, you can do it all wherever and whenever you like. We use our smartphones almost exactly like our computers or laptops – so we should be giving them the same protection.

On the screen of a smartphone you can see iBarry lifting a paw and sniffing icons.

Your smartphone is a little computer.

It’s rather handy. We use smartphones to pass the time on the train, in queues and during our coffee breaks. Thanks to smartphones, we can shop online, check our emails, transfer money and post pictures and messages on social media wherever we are. When we’re out and about, our smartphones do pretty much everything our computers do at home. But do we protect them the same way?

Sadly, phishing and malware work just as well on smartphones. Whenever we browse the internet – be it via a laptop or a smartphone – we put ourselves and our data at risk. The same applies for emails and messages.

«You need to protect your smartphone just as carefully as you protect your computer.»

Five top tips for protecting your smartphone

1. Lock your smartphone

Set up a strong security lock on your smartphone.

2. Double-check apps

Only install apps from authorised app stores and only grant permissions if absolutely necessary.

3. Install updates

Check your software and apps for the latest updates and install them as soon as possible.

4. Look out for dodgy calls, messages and online deals

Don’t be fooled and always think twice about tempting offers.

5. Use public WiFi with caution

Remember that everything you do online while connected to public WiFi can be viewed by third parties.

6. Make backups, save data

We regularly save our important data (e.g. photos) in a second location or switch on the device's automatic backup option.

1. Lock your smartphone

Lock screen: If your smartphone falls into the wrong hands, a strong lock screen could protect your photos, contacts, apps, and so on. Your best bet is a PIN with at least six digits. But whether you use a PIN, a swipe pattern, FaceID or a fingerprint – the important thing is that you have set up a secure lock screen.

Setting up a PIN request for your SIM card is an extra safe option. That way, nobody can use your SIM card in another smartphone. Nobody can use your number to make calls or send messages to strangers. And nobody can access the contacts or data, such as photos, stored on your SIM card.

2. Double-check apps

Before downloading: As a rule, you should only download apps from official app stores (Apple App Store, Google Play Store, etc.). But even these apps aren’t 100% guaranteed to be safe: criminals are constantly developing new apps that can read your data or infect your smartphone with a virus. These are disguised as harmless apps, often created with names and logos very similar to those of popular apps. Check the name and logo carefully. The more often an app has been downloaded, the more likely it is to be genuine.

After downloading: When you download a new app, it’s worth checking which permissions and access it requests. Sometimes, even simple games will request access to contacts, files, location (GPS) or the camera. You can edit these permissions in the app settings. Remember the golden rule: grant as many as necessary and as few as possible.

3. Install updates

Software and apps are constantly improving: better sound quality, prettier designs, more features and often improved security. You can access these improvements by installing an update on your smartphone.

In order to install updates, your smartphone must be connected to the internet. If you’re travelling or haven’t had internet connection for a while, it may take a little while for all updates to fully install. Most providers issue automatic updates. This usually means it’s easy to keep your phone up to date – you don’t need to do anything!

You can find available updates for your apps here:

Play Store -> My apps & game -> Updates.

App Store -> Account symbol -> Available Updates

4. Look out for dodgy calls, messages and online deals

Whenever you’re online shopping, online banking, browsing social media or reading your emails, always remember the golden rule: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Whenever you see any kind of tempting offer – whether it’s for shoes, money, jobs or love – always double-check before you pounce on it.

If you receive a suspicious phone call, tell the caller that you’d be happy to call them back. That way, you can check whether or not they are genuine. If you receive an unexpected message containing a link, resist the temptation to click it. Or you are contacted by an unknown person, allegedly by chance, who engages you in conversation. Remember:

5. Take care using public WiFi

You can upload photos, transfer money and check your emails anywhere, whether you’re on a train, on a plane or in a café – yep, free public WiFi is great.

But when you log in, just bear this in mind: in theory, anybody logged into that WiFi network can – with the right expertise and equipment – see what you’re doing online, such as the websites you visit. If you’re on an insecure website (open or grey padlock symbol before the URL -> no HTTPS), third parties can even see the information you enter on the website, such as your credit card details or passwords. Using a VPN offered by an authorised provider or your company could protect you from these risks.

6. Make backups, save data

It makes sense to back up all the files that are important to you: photos, videos and music as well as private and professional documents such as spreadsheets and presentations. Ask yourself what would happen if you lost those documents. Are the pictures of your last summer holidays especially important to you?

iPhone - Apple offers a standard solution for all iPhone users which involves backing up the content of your iPhone to your home computer or to Apple's iCloud. Instructions on how to back up your data can be found in the iPhone user manual.

Android - Many Android devices offer device-specific backup options. Alternatively, you can back up your most important data to Google Drive’s servers: Google instructions.