It's more important than ever to be vigilant about online security, as hackers are finding new creative ways to steal your information. Savvy digital thieves can target your smartphone without you even knowing about it, which leaves your sensitive data at risk.
If your phone gets hacked, sometimes it's obvious. Ransomware, for example, will take over your phone and lock your entire system down. A message will display on the screen demanding that you pay a fee if you want to get your files back. If you missed our story about how ransomware is spreading to phones and tablets, click to read it here.
But sometimes hackers sneak malware onto your device without you even knowing it. Trojans like Acecard hide in your system then slowly get worse. This is when malware can do the most damage because it can infect your operating system for months, even years, before you realize there's a problem.
We've covered how you can secure your smartphone in the past, but there are other things you can do to protect yourself from getting hacked. That's why we've put together this list of things to watch out for.
1. Public Wi-Fi
Many people incorrectly assume that security is built into public Wi-Fi networks. They believe that since a password is required to access the network their information is safe. But that's not always the case.
One of the most common ways hackers attack mobile devices is through unsecured Wi-Fi networks. These public networks, like the ones you find at airports and coffee shops, can be accessed by anyone. This means that a hacker can potentially see everything you do while you're logged in using these networks.
Your device will let you know which networks are available, but that doesn't mean these networks should be trusted. Scammers will sometimes create "honeypot" networks, using generic names such as "Coffee Shop" or "Hotel Guest" to make you believe you're connecting to the real thing when you're actually not.
- Turn your Wi-Fi off: In your phone's setting menu, slide the Wi-Fi toggle to turn it off. You can turn it back on as needed, but this will prevent your phone from connecting to public Wi-Fi networks automatically.
- Be skeptical of links: Scammers are skilled at making links seem enticing so you'll fall for their trick, but there are some signs that should make you think twice before you click. First, if an outrageous claim sounds too good to be true, it's probably not legitimate. Second, if you're prompted to download something, you probably should avoid it. Here's a little trick. To see what's hiding behind a hyperlink, see what shows up in the bottom left-hand corner of your screen when you hover your mouse over it.
- Avoid certain websites: Unless you're planning to do some general web surfing, it's probably best to avoid public Wi-Fi altogether. Ask yourself, if someone were looking over your shoulder would you access a particular account or website. If that were the case, you probably wouldn't check your credit card statement or log in to your Amazon Prime account. When using public Wi-Fi, always assume that somebody out there is watching.
- Use encryption: When you do connect to public networks, encrypted data is essential to your online security. However, you can't always trust that the network is encrypting that data for you. Visiting SSL sites, or websites that begin with the letters H-T-T-P-S means that the data exchanged is being encrypted. VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, can be created wherever you go if you have the right software.
- Have strong security software - this will help prevent the installation of ransomware on your gadget.
Backing up your critical data is an important safety precaution in the fight against ransomware. It's the best way to recover your files without paying a ransom.
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2. Outdated operating systems
Flaws in your operating system also open doors to hackers. All of those update prompts that keep popping up on your screen - well, they're important. In the moment they may seem like pesky tasks that you have to keep up on, but each of those updates carries critical patches for your system.
Smartphone manufacturers frequently release operating system updates to fight the attacks. Updates should be installed immediately because hackers have a better success rate on out of date devices.
- Apple: The most current operating system for Apple devices is 10.3.2. You can check to see if you're running the most current version by accessing your Settings >> General >> Software Update.
- Android: Updating your gadget depends on the manufacturer and/or your cellular carrier. While some manufacturers such as Samsung and LG have committed to the monthly updates, they're often running behind. Some manufacturers provide security updates even more infrequently. The operating system you're using also depends on these factors. Android Nougat 7.0 is the most current version, but if you're using an older device, the manufacturer may have discontinued regular updates. That's why security software is especially critical for Android users.
3. Apps with malicious code
Malicious apps are another way devices can be compromised. Applications downloaded from messages or websites instead of an app store increase the risk of an attack. Hackers can steal data with help from malicious code hidden inside apps. There are so many apps available that neither Apple nor Google can check all of them in their store for malicious code.
- Carefully inspect what you install: To be safe you should limit the number of applications you choose to install. Think about who developed the app and if it is something you really need. You should also pay attention to warning messages and disclosure agreements when installing an app.
- Secure your device: Again, we can't stress this enough. Protect your device with strong security software.