Seven Simple Things You Can Do to Use Smartphones Safely

February 22, 2013
Jason Hong

A study from Nielsen shows that 67% of new mobile phone purchases are smartphones. Smartphones have been proving valuable for enterprises and for personal use, in particular because of the app markets that make it easy for anyone to innovate new ideas. However, the same features that make smartphones useful also make them attractive to thieves and criminals.

Here are some simple things you can do to protect your smartphone and yourself.

1. Add a PIN

The simplest thing you can do to protect your smartphone is to add a PIN. It’s easy to do, and offers some protection from casual snoopers as well as thieves. If you don’t already have a PIN for your smartphone, go do this right now.

2. Don’t leave your smartphone in a public area

Treat your smartphone like a $100 bill. Don’t leave your smartphone alone in any place where you wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving a $100 bill. It’s very easy for thieves to steal your phone if you run to the bathroom or order a coffee, so be careful.

3. Don’t wear your smartphone in a hip holster

Many smartphone thieves are good enough that they can simply steal your phone while it’s on your belt. Sadly, this is not uncommon. Famed technology writer Robert Cringely even wrote about his experience in having his iPhone stolen just a few minutes after having used it. Apparently, some more brazen thieves will even steal your iPhone out of your hands when you are in large public areas, making it hard to follow them as they run into a crowd of people.

4. Watch out for fake apps

Sometimes hackers will create outright fake apps. For example, a while back, some criminals created a fake NetFlix app, which claimed to let you view streaming vidoes. All it really did was steal your username and password. You can avoid these kinds of fake apps by not downloading the newest apps, and waiting until several thousand other people have tried out the app.

Another common tactic of hackers is to take a legitimate for-pay app, add some malware to it, and then re-upload the app as a “free” version. This approach is especially common for for-pay games. When you see a free version of a for-pay app, first check that it’s made by the same software developers.

5. Know ahead of time what your options are if your phone is stolen

Do you know what to do if your smartphone is stolen? It turns out that there are some apps that can help you track the location of your phone. Many of these need to be installed beforehand, though some can actually be installed after the fact (the social news site Reddit has a handy list of apps for Android in case your phone is stolen).

One warning though: some thieves are smart enough to simply turn off your phone once they steal it, so these kinds of measures can help but are no guarantee of recovering your phone.

6. Don’t talk about sensitive information in public areas

This tip applies to all mobile phones, not just smartphones. Far too often, people forget that other people can hear what they are saying when making a voice call. These situations are exacerbated if a person is talking about sensitive information in a public space, such as who is going to be fired, business deals, or military unit deployments. Find a quiet place first, and let the person on the other side know that you’re in a public place and can’t talk about sensitive information.

7. Don't respond to text messages from people you don't know and don't click on links in those messages

Smartphones allow you to follow links in text messages. However, often the links are shortened and you have no way of knowing exactly where that link is taking you. Criminals can send you messages with coupons or offers of money that often require you to follow a link in the text message to accept the offer. These messages are called "smishing" messages, which is short for SMS/text phishing messages. It is best to go to the official website of the offering company to find real coupons or offers.

These lessons are interactively taught in Wombat's Mobile Device Security and Mobile App Security training modules. Click here to learn more about our education options and to try our modules.

Wombat also offers a smishing simulated attack service called SmishGuru that enables companies to send mock smishing attacks to their employees' smartphones for the purposes of training them how to avoid attacks. Learn more here.