Cybersecurity 101:
Can You Hear Me Now?

 · 6 mins read

         Imagine a world where everything you ever needed was in a single place. A place where all your friends hang out 24/7, where food, work, shopping, medical care, literature, movies, entertainment, banking, dental care, music, and a repository of endless information all existed in harmony. On top of all that, you only have to make it to your pocket to get there! It all seems too good to be true, and in many cases it is.

Generally speaking, the common thief is pretty lazy. They won’t jump through crazy flaming hoops to get what they want. This certainly holds true for thieves who won’t even leave the comfort of their own home to steal. To the lazy thief, this Utopian place really is a dream come true. Now with a couple keystrokes, all of the collective information about anyone’s life is in a predictable and reachable location. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m talking about a cell phone.

Put on your evil hat for a second and bear with me. If I want to get access to my bank account really fast, where would I go? I highly doubt I would drive all the way to the bank just to get a statement. Instead, I would take a look on my phone. If I want to talk to my parents or my best friend, what would I do? Most people wouldn’t drive to their friend’s house just to start up a conversation. Instead, they would call or text them from their phone. It’s kind of scary thinking about how this applies to practically every area of our modern lives. Armed with this information, the path of least resistance to a goldmine of endless life data exists right in your pocket. I don’t think I need to go into any more detail about why it’s important to secure your cell phone, so here are some simple tips explaining how.

Updates

Sometimes it can be annoying to see the little pop-up asking if you would like to update and restart your device. Keeping your device up to date, however, is the simplest way to avoid getting malware and the easiest path to protecting your information. Other benefits of keeping your phone up to date include getting new features, bug fixes, and improved performance. Whether you have an Android device, iPhone, or something different altogether, updates are an essential part of good cyber hygiene.

Fingerprint/Passcode

Adding a passcode to your phone significantly increases the overall security posture of your device. Leaving your device completely unlocked is never a good idea. In most cases using a fingerprint to unlock your device is more advantageous than a passcode as it prevents shoulder surfers who try to look at your code when you type it in. Many applications are also starting to offer fingerprint login to the app itself. For example, here are a couple of popular apps that offer this feature at no cost:

  • Mint
  • Bank of America
  • Google Authenticator
  • Chase
  • Most Password managers like LastPass and Keeper
  • Many hotel and travel apps (e.g. Hilton)

If there is an app that you use quite often, check and see if it supports fingerprint login. You will be surprised at how many apps are starting to accept this trend.

Encryption

There are some conversations you never want to have in a public place where people can listen in on what you’re saying. Conversations work the same way in the cyber realm. Encryption simply takes readable information and makes it unreadable to anyone who is trying to eavesdrop on your conversation. Encrypting your data is a great way to keep your private information truly private. Having nothing to hide is never a good reason to leave your data unprotected. When having nothing to hide is the justification for not using encryption, you inherently assume everyone who’s interested in your data has honorable intentions. Anyone adopting this notion also assumes nobody will take the time to dig into their data and find something of value, such as the golden keys to your identity (SSN). Unfortunately, in the real world, this is simply not the case.

      Message Encryption

Encrypting your messages is becoming increasingly vital as we become more dependent on computers for our communication. Encryption prevents spying, eavesdropping, cybercriminals, blackmailing, stalking, and plenty of other issues. Signal private messenger, Whatsapp, and iMessage are a few popular messaging apps that offer great end to end encryption by default to protect all of your conversations.

      Phone Encryption

Fortunately for the majority of phone users, both Android and iOS give you the option to encrypt your entire device. On either platform, it only takes the click of a button to protect your data from anyone snooping into your personal business. The process for doing so depends on the phone. Consult Google when looking up how to encrypt your specific device. Here is an example Google search to get you started.

Public Wi-Fi

Using the free Wi-Fi at the local coffee shop is really convenient when you want to watch a YouTube video but can pose a serious threat to your privacy. In most cases, these Wi-Fi networks are unencrypted, which introduces the same privacy concerns mentioned in the last section. This means that if you do choose to do online banking while connected to the free WI-FI, other people can see what username and password you used to login. You should also disable the auto connect feature when connecting to any public Wi-Fi network. Automatically connecting to a public Wi-Fi network opens up your device to multiple security risks.

Remote GPS and Remote Wipe

In the unfortunate event your phone is lost or stolen it would be nice to find out where it’s located and remove all the private data on it. That’s where remote GPS and remote wipe comes in. Even though you don’t have physical access to the device, remote GPS allows you to see where your phone is currently at. Remote wipe, on the other hand, allows you to destroy all of the sensitive data on your phone to prevent anyone getting access to it.

You can find out how to turn on the remote wipe feature on Android here or iPhone here. You can also see how to find the location of your device on Android here or iPhone here.

Conclusion

Every choice we make, however small or large, contributes to both our habit and circumstance. C.S. Lewis wrote, “[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before”. These tips on improving your cell phone security might seem insignificant but will certainly contribute to your cyber hygiene in a positive way.