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Top tips for smartphone security

27th January 2017

As we're sure you're aware, the usage of smartphones has increased exponentially over the last few years. We now rely on having a smartphone connected to the internet on a day-to-day basis so that we can check work emails, keep in touch with friends and catch up on the latest news.

Recent studies show that smartphone usage has now eclipsed that of desktop computers and laptops, especially in younger people. According to the report from Ofcom, two thirds of people now own a smartphone, and they are using it for nearly two hours every day to browse the internet, access social media, manage their banking and shopping online.

As you can see from the above statements, our mobile phones now have far greater capabilities in comparison to what we had to work in years gone by. Back in 2000 we saw the release of the somewhat iconic Nokia 3310 (remember those!?) - the 3310 was an incredible simple phone which allowed its owner to phone friends, send a text message and even kick back to play some Snake. Back then, most of us wouldn't have considered security as a high priority other than adding a 4-digit passcode to access the phone. But with the vast amount of activities we can do on our smartphones now, we have to take extra care when it comes to security.

Here are Cosmic's top tips for smartphone security.

1. Set a password for your phone

The addition of a password or passcode to your smartphone is the first step you should take to improving your security. Most smartphones on the market will actually prompt you to include this when setting up your device and it is recommended that you do so.

Not having a password means that anyone who may pick up your phone could potentially access your important emails, personal photos and even financial information if you have banking and money-related apps like PayPal.

We would recommend adding (at the very least) a 4 digit passcode, but if your device has the ability, upgrade that to a 6 digital code or higher - the more characters there are the harder it'll be to access.

How to add a passcode to an Android phone

Tap Apps – Settings – Lock screen and security - Screen lock type – Pin. From here you can enter a six-digit Pin to keep your device secure.

How to add a passcode to an iPhone (or Apple device)

The latest iPhones prompt you to set up a six-digit Pin from the start. On an iPhone using an older version of iOS, you can still upgrade to a six-digit Pin - tap Settings – Touch ID and Passcode – Enter your current passcode – Change Password. You’ll then be prompted to enter your current passcode one more time before creating a new one.

2. Keep your mobile operating system up to date

No matter what operating system you are running, it's imperative that your device is up to date with the latest software version. You may think that these updates are to give your device fancy new features - while this is sometimes true, there are also some behind-the-scenes features that are implemented to close up any security loopholes or weaknesses. For this reason, it's important that you update your device when new updates becoome available - this applies to both the device OS and also apps.

Most manufacturers will notify you when an update is available for your device, but do check your phone's settings for automatic updates and notifications as this can save hassle in the long run. Most devices will also allow you to only have automatic updates occur when you're connected to stable broadband rather than using your data plan up.

3. Be vigilant when using public Wi-Fi

Public Wi-Fi connections are fantastic for those with an on-the-go lifestyle - some Cosmic team members work at coffee shops when out and about too. This is great as you don't have to use any data allowance up and you can enjoy a nice cup of fresh coffee whilst you work!

However, you should always be careful when using public, unsecured Wi-Fi networks - there is a hacking method known as a ‘man-in-the-middle’ attack, and this involves a hacker intercepting your login information, passwords and/or financial data as you use the free Wi-Fi. is is strongly recommended that you avoid logging into your online banking or entering any credit card or personal details while using these free networks. Should you do need to check your bank account or make any monetary transactions, you should use your 3G or 4G data connection instead – it is much more secure this way.

4. Disable applications from untrusted sources

Since smartphones arrived on the scene, the phrases "there's an app for that" has only become more and more true. We can now get apps for just about anything, whether it be flinging birds at stuctures to knock them down or managing your business finances.

It's possible for you to download apps from external sources (as opposed to your device's native app store) - while this may sound like a good idea, it's apps that aren't found on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store that tend to be the ones that are infected with malicious code. Apple, Google and Microsoft, as well as the likes of BlackBerry, keep an eye on the applications that are on their app stores. This means apps that contain malicious code are likely to have been removed before you install them. Apple especially are very strict on what apps make it to the App store and they have a very specific submission and approval process to weed out the bad apps before they see the light of day.

5. Avoid rooting or jailbreaking

The process of rooting (Android) and jailbreaking (Apple) can prove very dangerous, especially if you're not 100% sure what you're doing. This is because rooting/jailbreaking breaks down your operating system and provides you with access to the code that makes it all tick. This means that if you can access the code, it's also much easier for malicious code to find a way into your device and cause some serious damage.

6. Enable your location settings

Location settings can be a live-saver if you should ever lose or misplace your phone. Location settings - sometimes referred to as location services - will give you the ability to track down your smartphone's location from an external device such as a computer, tablet or another phone.

Using iOS to find your device

On iOS there is the 'Find my iPhone' app which is incredibly easy to install and use. You'll then be able to pin-point your phone's location via the GPS tracker.

Using Android to find your device

This doesn't require an app, just navigate to Google Play via a web browser, click the settings wheel and hit Android Device Manager. From here you can locate, ring, lock and erase your device if needed.

Using Windows Phone to find your device

To track down your Windows Phone, go via WindowsPhone.com and log in with your details to spot its location on a map and make it ring, display a message or erase the whole device.

Using BlackBerry to find your device

If you're one of the few people still using a BlackBerry, you can use the BlackBerry Protect tool to achieve a similar thing. This needs to be preset on the BlackBerry device, however.