A Concise Guide to Mobile Security in 2021
In today’s fast-paced and hyper-connected world, most of us use the internet while on the go. Here in the United States alone, Statista data shows there are nearly 300 million smartphone users. From directions to phone numbers to important emails, your mobile device can be a true lifesaver. Unfortunately, as The Guardian recently reported, just having a cell phone can prove to be a significant security risk.
It’s not all bad news, though. In this guide to mobile security in 2021, we’ll take a closer look at some of the cybersecurity challenges you face while using a mobile device — and what you can do to mitigate those risks.
Risks Facing Mobile Device Users
While this certainly isn’t a comprehensive list, the following are some of the most significant risks mobile device users will encounter in 2021 and beyond.
There are a variety of ways your personal data can become exposed through your mobile device. This can happen if a device is lost or stolen and in the physical possession of another person. However, your data can also be accessed and used without your permission (or even knowledge) through remote access. This is the traditional approach hackers use to gain information.
However, your data becomes compromised; you need to worry about what data has been leaked. Your mobile device contains a wealth of personal information you don’t want others to have access to, including saved passwords on browsers you’ve visited, social media account access, email addresses, and phone numbers, and saved banking or credit card information. You also risk exposing saved passwords to secure Wi-Fi networks, which can expose other devices to hackers.
Unsafe Wi-Fi Networks
One of the biggest risks facing mobile users is unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Many people rely on networks they do not own when they’re using their mobile devices. Poorly protected networks or open-for-public-use networks like those found at the library or your local coffee shop can create the prime opportunity for a hacker to gain access to your device.
Using an unsecured Wi-Fi network risks malware being introduced to your device. The malware can then be passed onto other networks and devices your mobile device communicates with. Of course, it also jeopardizes saved files and data stored on your device. Aside from malware, an unsecured Wi-Fi network can also have you sending your personal information — like identity information or credit card numbers — directly to a hacker, giving them free rein to use your information as they see fit.
Unfortunately, even well-protected devices and networks can be vulnerable to hacking through the introduction of fraudulent apps. This happens when users unintentionally introduce apps that appear legitimate but actually exist only to compromise the device and the networks it uses. Some of these apps even disguise themselves as ones that are intended to protect users and devices, like anti-virus apps.
Fraudulent apps take a variety of approaches to scamming you. Some may introduce malware to your device, while others may cost your money upfront to install and then fail to work. There are even fraudulent apps that send a barrage of advertisements to your phone where the programmers then collect money from the ad sales. Always double-check that you’re installing the correct app before purchasing and downloading it to your device.
SIM-jacking is a relatively new cybercrime approach you may not be familiar with yet. It’s an effective way for hackers to gain access to your phone and can lead to severe financial loss. By scouring social media and professional sites, hackers gain important identity information. They then pose as you and convince mobile service providers to transfer your numbers to new SIM cards.
Once this process is complete, the SIM-jacker can intercept any multi-factor authentication texts and easily access accounts you think are protected. While other hacking techniques require technical know-how and skill, this approach to hacking relies on old-fashioned people skills and charm to gain unauthorized access to your important data. You may not be as familiar with it, but SIM-jackers stole 100 million dollars in the last year — and it’s likely crimes like this will continue to rise.
iOS Vs. Android Risks
While every mobile device can be a victim of hacking, different platforms face different problems. Android devices, for instance, use a more open-source platform where apps are easily uploaded. While this can be great for a nice variety of apps, it also leaves Android devices less secure than they could be.
Android devices can also be prone to fragmentation, which helps create chinks in the protective armor and creates access points for hackers to gain entry. While Android is frequently cited as less safe than iOS platforms, part of the issue is that there are actually a greater number of Android device users. This makes these devices a natural focus and target for hackers.
While iOS devices are touted as more secure, they aren’t infallible. The very same structure that makes iOS platforms harder to infiltrate also makes them more challenging for you to protect. As a result, iOS users need to rely on Apple to protect them and their devices. They have far fewer options to implement effective cybersecurity protocols than their Android counterparts.
How to Limit Your Risk
There’s no denying that there are plenty of ways your mobile device can be at risk. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to help better protect your device and keep your personal information safe.
Tighten Password Security
Password use has come a long way, and you probably know by now you should stick to hard-to-guess passwords that contain both upper and lower letters, numbers, and special characters. Always avoid special names and dates. Most importantly, though, make sure you use a unique password for every account you hold. This way, if there ever is a breach, you need to worry less about one compromised account risking other accounts you have.
Remember to store passwords in safe places that aren’t easily visible and avoid sharing them with others. If remembering passwords is challenging for you, you may want to consider using a password manager to help keep things accessible without compromising your cybersecurity. Changing your password regularly will also keep your information better protected.
Finally, it’s worth considering multi-factor authentication to keep your accounts and devices secure. If your mobile device falls into the wrong hands (physically), this can prevent someone from logging onto your device and immediately gaining access to your accounts. Multi-factor authentication can also prevent would-be hackers from fully logging into your accounts, even if they do manage to unlock one portion of the log-in process.
Use a Virtual Private Network
For complete device protection, consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN creates a secure internet connection for your mobile device. All information traveling through the VPN is encrypted, making information more difficult to acquire and more difficult to decode.
In addition to giving your device protection from cybercriminals, this tool also masks IP addresses and allows for internet anonymity. It also gives you the option to choose your server. With servers from around the world, a VPN enables you to avoid firewalls and access websites not usually available in your region or country.
Using a VPN for iOS devices is one of the few ways users can add a layer of security to their devices. A VPN is also suitable for Android devices, and it can even be installed on networks, protecting every device on it. This includes devices you might not always think of, like smart assistants, robot vacuums, security systems, wireless printers, and even smart refrigerators and thermostats.
Stick to Secure Networks
It’s not always possible to use your personal network. If you don’t have access to a network you know and trust, avoid online activities that can expose sensitive information, like making purchases or logging into password-protected accounts. If you can’t avoid those tasks, make sure you’re logging into a password-protected network or consider using data instead of Wi-Fi.
Many mobile devices will seek out Wi-Fi networks and automatically connect to them during your travels. To keep your information secure, make sure this preference is turned off on your mobile device. Even if you’re within reach of a preferred network, your device may swap over to another network if the signal is stronger or if your preferred network is having connectivity issues. It’s worth the extra effort to ask your device to seek out networks when necessary, rather than risk an unintentional connection and the corresponding associated risk.
Keeping Your Mobile Device Secure
Mobile devices are here to stay, so if you haven’t thought about how to keep them safe from would-be hackers, it’s time to start. Always keep your software and devices fully up-to-date and make sure your cybersecurity protocols are up to snuff using the tips provided here. With a few security measures in place, you can reduce your likelihood of becoming a cyber victim and enjoy the convenience that comes along with having a smart device while you’re on the go.