With great convenience comes great vulnerability. If you depend on payment apps, managing investments, banking and moving money using your cell phone, you aren’t alone.
Are you confident your financial information is secure? The Identity Theft Resource Center is a non-profit that knows about the mistakes cell phone users make that can compromise phone security and make you vulnerable.
Here are 9 tips for how you can improve the security of your smartphone:
- Accept responsibility for improving your phone’s security. Don’t depend on vendors to protect you. Many people are not aware that a phone’s personal and financial information can be mined from emails, texts, downloaded document and contact lists. Data breaches are occurring more and more frequently. They can come from a computer virus (your smartphone is a computer), a company you do business with and someone that snoops directly on your phone transmissions.
- No surprise: Create better passwords! Great digital security begins here. Make your passwords stronger by creating longer strings of characters. Don’t use the usual, easy to decode passwords (like pets and kids’ names or birth dates). And especially don’t use the same password for multiple sites. Hackers and thieves LOVE that. The inconvenience of creating longer passwords may seem challenging. But imagine how much more challenging it will be to dig out from identity theft! Here’s a useful tip: start with a phrase you’ll remember that isn’t very common. This will be your core password phrase. Then vary the phrase by changing the first two letters to match the letters of the website you’re using and then add letters for the season of the year. For instance, “The dude abides” (from the Big Lebowski) would look like ciThe$Dude$Abides$SU2017. The two letters ci at the beginning of the phrase represents the vendor or bank, CitiBank. Then, changing your password every season should be a no brainer – just substitute the SU for FA in the fall. Ask any IT person. Passwords over 20 characters are almost impossible to decode. Another tip – use a password generator app.
- Avoid public Wi-Fi. Be wary of any networks that don’t require a password. Cafes, planes, buses and even hotels that require a room number for access have notoriously weak security.
- Virtual private networks (VPN), like the one you encounter though an employer are available for individual consumers. A VPN creates a safer network using encryption and other tech tricks that make it harder for hackers to intercept your data. Getting a VPN is easy. Research first and sign up for a reputable service. You’ll download the app and pay a small monthly fee.
- Avoid public charging stations. You see them at airports and convention sites. The USB or Apple Lightning connector that plugs into your phone isn’t just a charging cable. It can be a two-way conduit for data. Be safer. Bring your own charging cable. Also, consider purchasing an external battery pack and use that when you’re on the go.
- Keep your software updated: Software updates almost always fix security flaws, so keep your phone’s system and apps updated.
- Two-Step Authentication is getting more ubiquitous. It adds an extra step when you log into banks or brokerage accounts. It’s totally worth it. A thief or hacker would need to access both your password and phone to get the code that is texted or emailed to you from your financial institution to be able to access your account(s).
- Sign up for account activity notifications. Ask any identity theft victim and they will tell you they won’t ever do without this little alert feature. More and more, banks and financial institutions have systems in place to send you texts, emails or phone calls about unusual activity on your accounts. You’ll have to be proactive to sign up for some of these notifications. And you’ll want to keep your contact information updated with those institutions so they can reach you if needed.
- Be phish-proof. You’ve heard and seen them. Texts or emails from legitimate looking companies that hope you follow their links and reveal confidential information about yourself. The elderly are particularly susceptible to these scams. If you get an email or text that notifies you of problems with your account or other matter, don’t follow the links. Simply go to the source. That source is the official website of your institution. Better still, give them a call using the phone number on your credit card or statement. Phishing scams are getting very sophisticated and many texts and emails can be mistaken for the real thing. Be over cautious. Legislation doesn’t require businesses and institutions to notify consumers of data breaches in a timely manner.