10 ways to make your smartphone more secure

ByKim Staples
Man with mobile

Your smartphone is a hive of personal info and files, which makes it worrying that there are so many ways its security can be compromised. You’ve got malware, phishers, hackers, thieves, and nosy people peering over your shoulder to look out for.

But fret not, dear reader. There are plenty of things you can do to up the security on your smartphone, whether it's an iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, or Blackberry. Read on for broadbandchoices' 10 best tips.

1. Get some anti-virus software

Think it's only computers that are susceptible to viruses and malware? Think again. These days, more than 90% of all malware targets Android devices, and iPhones aren't immune either.

But, as with computers, there are programs you can install to run virus checks and protect you against cyber criminals. Try the McAfee app for iPhone, or Avast for Android. The state of the malware landscape is always changing, however, so do a little research into the best current virus protection first.

2. Secure your lock screen

The lock screen is the first thing anyone comes across when they grab your phone - so security here is vital. The best way to do so is with the fingerprint scanner, if your phone has one. The next best method would be a full password with letters and numbers, which is more secure than drawing a pattern or typing four numbers, though not the speediest for quickly using your phone. If you prefer a numbered passcode, at least choose an unusual one. The most common ones that you want to avoid are 1234, 0000, 2580, 1111, 5555, and birth dates.

And the less information the lock screen gives away, the better. Siri, for instance, can have a chat with anyone who gets their hands on your phone, so it's best to disable her on the lock screen. It's a good idea to disable SMS previews on notifications too - texts can show potentially sensitive info like verification codes.

3. Don't track your location

Lots of smartphones have a handy GPS, which is infinitely useful when you're lost. The rest of the time, it's there in the background. Lurking. Telling your appsexactly where you are.

Thankfully it's super easy to toggle on and off. We'd recommend keeping it permanently turned off when you're not using it.

Other apps have a tendency to log your location too, but again they're easy to switch off. You can select 'do not track' when asked for your location in web browsers; and disable geotagging on the camera app.

4. Take care with apps

If hackers and phishers want to get access to your phone, the best way for them to do that is by getting you to install an app. Avoid the dodgy apps by only installing ones you find on official stores - Apple's App Store, Google Play Store, Microsoft Store, or BlackBerry World - rather than those hosted on other sites or on forums. If the app isn't in one of the official stores, there's nothing stopping the creators from including malware in it.

Look at the reviews before downloading too - if there's a weird issue, other users will hopefully alert you to it. And when you install them, take notice of the permission access requests. If a simple Tetris game wants access to your contacts and texts, for instance, there may be something suspect going on.

App on smartphone

5. Use two-step verification

Setting up passwords to get to your info is all well and good, but some apps let you take that a step further with two-step verification. You'll find the option on things like email accounts, your Apple ID, Google profile, and more. As the name suggests, it basically means that to get into your account you'll need to take two steps - such as a password and an extra verification like a security code. Set these up and your details will be doubly secure on every device you access them on.

6. Switch Bluetooth and Wi-Fi off

The great thing about smartphones is how much connectivity they offer. The bad thing is that more connectivity means they're more open to hacking.

Switching Bluetooth and Wi-Fi off when you're not using them closes those gates to malicious parties - and saves your battery quite a bit too.

7. Don't root or jailbreak

Yes, we know it's tempting to jailbreak or root your phone - that is, break into the software so you can have complete control and install whatever apps you want. But, you guessed it, doing so can make it less secure. You'll no longer have official technical support, for a start, and to jailbreak in the first place you'll need to strip away some of the layers of security built in. There's even malware - like the Dutch Ransom worm - that specifically targets jailbroken phones.

8. Enable anti-theft features

Not only can anti-theft measures help you find your phone when it's lost, they'll also let you wipe your data remotely. Sign into your phone with your Google account, Apple ID, or Windows profile, and you can enable the ready-made 'find my phone' features to access them from anywhere. For extra security we'd recommend installing an app like Prey, Cerberus, or MobileMe.

For more, see our guide to finding a lost phone.

Woman annoyed with phone

9. Keep it updated

Software manufacturers are always on the ball about the security of their programs and operating systems. Whenever a potential gap in the security is discovered, they get to work patching it up - and every new upgrade has some more sophisticated security than before.

So it's important to get all the latest updates on your phone. If you're prompted to install the latest OS version, do so; and allow patches and automatic app updates to download. Updating uses a decent amount of data and battery power, so this is best done when your phone's plugged in and connected to Wi-Fi.

10. Do a factory reset when you get rid of it

Selling your phone? Wipe it clean first. Back everything up first, of course, so you don't lose all your pictures and messages, then do a factory reset when it's good to go. This will delete personalised files, format the phone, and set it back to the way it was when it was fresh out of the factory. 

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