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7 ways to hack-proof your smartphone to keep your data safe

7 ways to hack-proof your smartphone to keep your data safe
© Sarayut Thaneerat | Dreamstime.com

We're always warning you of the latest cybercrimes. Data breaches, ransomware and phishing attacks are constantly in the headlines.

It's not just criminals trying to break into our gadgets either. We learned in 2017 that the CIA has been hacking smartphones, TVs and other items to spy on us for years. Knowing that pretty much everyone is after our personal information, it's a good idea to take safety precautions.

That's why it's important for you to know these seven ways to hack-proof your smartphone to keep your data safe.

1. Update your software

One of the most important safety precautions as a smartphone user is to keep its operating system (OS) up to date. It's important because, when OS vulnerabilities are discovered, updates are sent out that contain patches for those flaws.

That makes it critical to install OS updates ASAP. Here are the steps to update both Apple iOS and Android OS:

Apple

Go into your "Settings" app and select "General." From there, select "Software Update" and your iPhone will begin to check for updates. Then, if an update is available, select "Download and Install."

Android

Open Settings >> Tap About Phone >> Tap System Updates >> If there is an available update tap Restart and Install.

2. Keep criminals out of your phone

If your phone is stolen, the thief can gain access to all of the sensitive data that are stored in it. That means it is important to make it as difficult for them to get into it as possible.

Apple

iPhones used to only allow you to create a four-digit passcode for protection.

Do the math on that and you'll realize that allows just 10,000 passcode combinations. Now consider that someone watching you might see the simple combination you use to enter your passcode. Or, someone who knows you well might guess your four-digit passcode based on your birthday, street address or another PIN you use a lot.

Now, Apple gives you the chance to create stronger alternatives. You can choose between a four-digit numeric code, a six-digit numeric code, a custom numeric code, or a custom alphanumeric code and the iPhone X offers facial recognition. These options are more secure than the original four-digit option.

Go to Settings >> Touch ID & Passcode (Note: iPhone X will be Face ID & Passcode) >> Tap Turn Passcode On >> Enter a six-digit passcode or tap Passcode Options and choose among the options we've listed above >> Enter your passcode again to confirm it and activate it.

Android

Android phones have multiple options when it comes to setting a screen lock. Go to Settings >> tap Security under the Personal section >> tap Screen lock. You will see a few options to choose from:

  • None - This leaves you with no lock screen security.
  • Swipe - Selecting this option is basically the same as having no lock screen security. Anyone can unlock your gadget by swiping the lock screen.
  • Pattern - You can unlock your phone by using a specific swipe pattern along a series of dots.
  • PIN - Choose an uncrackable Personal Identification Number.
  • Password - Creating a password specific to the lock screen is an option, but it's the most inconvenient option available.

3. Use phone locating apps

Losing your phone or having it stolen is scary. There's so much personal data stored in it you don't want it getting into the wrong hands. If this unfortunate situation happens to you, there are apps that will help you track down your gadget.

Apple

Find My iPhone: This is a free app you can download from the App Store. If you lose your phone, you can log into your Apple ID account from another device and see a map of where it is. Getting the phone back is great, but the real saving grace is being able to wipe the phone clean; this app allows you to erase all your phone's content and settings.

Android

Android Device Manager: This is a free app you can download from the Google Play store. If you lose your phone, you can log in to your Google account from another device and see a map of where it is. This app also allows you to wipe the phone clean, erase all your phone data and reset your lock screen passcode.

4. Only download trusted apps

Whenever you want to download an app, make sure it's from a trusted source. Third-party apps don't go through the rigid security checks that apps found in Google's Play Store and Apple's App Store do. That means third-party apps could be malicious and infect your phone with malware.

Here are some ways to avoid being infected by a malicious app:

  • App stores - Stay away from third-party app stores. There have been a few examples of malicious apps in the Google Play Store and Apple's App Store, but they are very rare. Third-party app stores do little vetting of apps, making it easier for scammers to spread malware there.
  • Check the app's developer - Verifying the name of the app developer is important. Copycat apps will have a different developer's name than the actual one. Before downloading an app, do a Google search to find the original developer.
  • Reviews - Most popular apps will have reviews by other users in the app store. You can sometimes find reviews by experts online. These are helpful at pointing out malicious or faulty apps. If you find a review warning the app is malicious, do NOT download it.

5. Turn off app notifications

Certain apps constantly send you notifications that pop-up right on your lock screen. Some can actually give away private information to anyone within view of your phone.

Think about your messenger app of choice. If you're having a private conversation with someone and they send you a personal message, it'll appear right on your lock screen. It could be a conversation that you don't want others around you to see.

You do have the option of turning off notifications for any app on your phone.

Apple

Go to Settings >> scroll down to the app you want notifications turned off for and select it >> tap Notifications >> slide the toggle to the left next to Allow Notifications. Follow these steps for each app that you want notifications turned off.

Android

Open Settings >> tap Notifications >> select an app >> choose Block all. Follow these steps for each app that you want notifications turned off.

6. Use a password manager

Passwords are critical to keeping your personal data safe. The key is creating hack-proof passwords that criminals won't be able to breach. Click here to learn three proven formulas that will help.

If you're like almost every other person with a laptop, tablet and smartphones, you have so many passwords it's simply impossible to remember them all. Plus, many online accounts require you to change your password often.

The problem is, just when you finally remember that complicated, super-long password, you have to change it. So frustrating!

Don't worry, we've got a solution for this. They're called password managers, and they're really helpful. Instead of remembering lots of passwords, you simply remember one password. When you type it into your free password manager, it opens up all your saved accounts with their website addresses, logins and passwords.

Try KeePass. It's a free, open-source password manager. Open source just means that anyone can go in and tinker with its coding to make it better.

7. Set up a VPN when using public Wi-Fi

It's very convenient to bank, shop and post photos and status updates online. It means you don't have to physically go to the bank, the store or travel long distances to catch up with family and friends who might be scattered around the country.

The drawback to doing these and other things online is that your information is traveling through the internet. It isn't a straight shot between you and the site you're using, either. The data can bounce through servers around the country or even around the world.

That gives hackers a lot of opportunities to steal your information. If they can grab it in transit, they can learn your passwords, details about you they shouldn't know, or even pretend to be you to trick your bank or other secure sites.

That's especially true if you're using public Wi-Fi. Hackers on the same network have plenty of tools to snoop on what you're doing.

To encrypt your connection, you can use a virtual private network (VPN).

A third-party VPN service lets you create an encrypted connection with one of its servers and you use that server to browse the internet. The connection is encrypted through the server, so the VPN can't see your traffic either. OK, it's a bit more complicated than that behind the scenes, but that's the result.

We recommend using our sponsor F-Secure's FREEDOME VPN. Simply put, FREEDOME VPN is the easiest and most reliable solution for your online privacy and anonymity.

Tap or click here to learn more about FREEDOME VPN and use discount code KIM to save 20 percent at checkout!

How to make Alexa call 911

If you have any Amazon Alexa-connected devices, you already know how helpful they can be. You might even have a few around the house, including in your family room, kitchen and your home office. But can Alexa help with more serious tasks, like in an emergency situation? The answer is yes, it now has a skill that could actually come to the rescue.

That's why you need to know how to get Alexa to call 911. Tap or click here to learn how it might just save your life one day.

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