By Rob DeHollander, managing principal, DeHollander & Janse Financial Group
The first iPhone was released a little more than 11 years ago. It’s tough to remember how we managed our daily lives without smartphones. How did we get around town without Google Maps? Pay our bills on time before we had credit card and banking apps? Or let someone know we were running late without text messaging?
Because completing tasks on smartphones is so easy, we tend to overlook the sensitivity of the data we store on them. And that could be a recipe for disaster. To help you safeguard your confidential data, I’m sharing five mistakes that many of us make when using our smartphones, along with some simple fixes that you can put in place today.
- Not auto-locking our phones or using passwords.
Most smartphone users don’t password-protect their devices, making their information vulnerable if phones are lost or stolen. Two years ago, my wife and I traveled to Puerto Rico for our vacation. When we got to the hotel, my wife realized her phone was missing. It was one of those sick-to-your-stomach moments. We anxiously backtracked and determined her phone was probably left on the bus we rode from the airport to the resort. While we frantically called the shuttle company, we watched in horror as her phone traveled all over northern Puerto Rico (using the Find My iPhone app). We eventually determined her phone was still on the bus circling from the airport to various hotels and back again. At the time, my wife didn’t have a password on her phone (“It’s too much of a hassle…”). That night I remember worrying about the amount of personal data on her phone, including our banking apps, credit card information, and pictures of our home and kids. Fortunately, the next day we got her phone back. The first thing she did was enable password protection. We got lucky and the story ended happily, but it could’ve been much worse.
What can you do?
- Change your settings to require your phone to lock after a certain period of inactivity. This way, you’ll have to enter a password to get back in.
- Set a strong PIN or password. Although having a password is the most basic form of security, it will serve as the first line of defense, giving you the opportunity to remotely wipe or track your phone if it is lost or stolen.
- Connecting to public or unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
Public Wi-Fi networks pose a major security risk. Cybercriminals connected to the same network can view your activity and any information you send over the network, including usernames, passwords, account information, credit card information, and email messages.
What can you do? Turn off auto-discovery if your phone has that function! If you need to go online, use cellular data instead of connecting to an unsecured network.
- Using out-of-date apps and software.
Outdated apps and mobile operating system software leave your phone open to security vulnerabilities.
What can you do?
- Keep apps up-to-date. This mitigates risks by patching holes that hackers could exploit to access your data. Most smartphones have an automatic update option for apps; use it!
- Update your mobile OS software as soon as you are notified that an update is available.
- Staying logged in to apps that store your financial information.
Although certainly more convenient than entering your credentials every time you need access, staying logged in to Amazon, Capital One, or another shopping or banking service provider could leave you vulnerable to serious financial risk. If your phone is lost or stolen, you’re basically handing a criminal your wallet.
What can you do? Don’t stay logged in to apps, and clear your device’s browser history regularly.
- Clicking on links sent through unsolicited texts or emails.
Cybercriminals have crossed over from the desktop to the mobile world. They now deploy their phishing attempts through text messages or emails, hoping that you’ll click their bogus links and provide them with your credentials or financial information.
What can you do? Just as with your desktop or laptop, be wary of clicking links and downloading attachments — don’t do it. Viruses can infect smartphones, too.
What the future holds
As more of us use mobile devices to communicate and transact business, more of our information will be out there tempting hackers to steal it. Don’t let your smartphone lull you into a false sense of security. Follow the simple advice here to help ensure the security of your personal data.
Robert DeHollander is a managing partner and co-founder of the DeHollander & Janse Financial Group in Greenville.