Boost your smartphone security

5 ways to boost your smartphone security

Unless you’re Kate Upton, Jennifer Lawrence, or Scarlett Johansson — and if you are, hi! Love your work! — you might not be too worried about your phone leaking nude pics. But a new study suggests you should be, even if you never took any.

Computer security firm Kaspersky released a survey of 2,000 adults which found 83 percent of them never turn off their phones, and 44 percent never turn off their tablets. But more than half admitted they “have sex within sight of a camera-enabled mobile phone, tablet, laptop, or PC.” Many also use them in the bathroom or near important financial documents.

And guess what? Most devices have a camera or two that can be hacked and used without you noticing. That’s not the only bad recent tech news, either…

  • A new study from mobile security firm NQ Mobile noted the growing trend of ransomware, software packaged with legitimate apps that can lock you out of your own files and demand payment to not distribute or delete them.
  • Last month, researchers found a way to hack Gmail on phones (both iOS and Android) with a 92 percent success rate, and did pretty well hacking through other apps including Chase Bank, Amazon, and H&R Block.
  • If you’re not thoroughly creeped out yet, Popular Science talked to a high-security smartphone company about phony cell towers across the country that could be intercepting your calls and controlling your phone.

Enough people now use smartphones to make them a worthwhile target for hackers — and potentially more valuable than PCs, since we have them close by and usually on at all times.

But they’re still new enough to most of us that we don’t think hard about protecting ourselves. All the usual computer stuff applies to smartphones too — don’t open unusual attachments, and create a strong password. But here’s what you can do to boost smartphone security and save yourself from selfie self-destruction, ordered from the cheapest to most expensive…

1. Don’t get app-happy 

Never download an app before reading reviews and making sure it’s the one you thought it was. (Malicious apps often pretend to be new or alternate versions of popular ones.) Never install an app before checking what permissions it’s asking for — is there any reason for it to access your photos, camera, or microphone?

Even legitimate apps can risk your privacy if you don’t understand the settings. This costs nothing but a few moments to learn what’s going on.

2. Stay grounded

Enough with the cloud. Sure it’s convenient to automatically synchronize your files across devices and make an online backup, but it would also be pretty convenient to have a home without walls so you could see everything and go everywhere without obstacles.

The guy who dumped all those nude photos got them through the celebrities’ iCloud accounts. So learn how to disable iCloud and  turn off auto-backup on Android, and be selective about what you put on the web. Time-consuming? Maybe. But free.

3. Get an antivirus

People continue to debate the usefulness of antivirus programs for phones. Especially Apple’s, which have seen virtually no malicious software because of the company’s tight grasp on both the operating system and what goes in its App Store.

Android, which is an open-source platform and comes in far more flavors, is more hackable — so it also has some good antivirus options, the best of which is free. But in general, the people who need to watch for digitally transmitted diseases are those who jailbreak (hack) their own phone to add custom features.

4. Cover up

If you want to walk around naked with your phone, make it get dressed instead. There are cases that block cameras and clip-ons for phones, laptops, and tablets. The cheapest, simplest option is tape. Others can cost $30.

5. Go James Bond

If you want the best possibly security, you better work for a secret service or be ready to pay for it. The company Popular Science talked to, ESD America, sells a device called the CryptoPhone 500.

It’s “built on top of an unassuming Samsung Galaxy SIII body, [and] features high-powered encryption. Les Goldsmith, the CEO of ESD America, says the phone also runs a customized or ‘hardened’ version of Android that removes 468 vulnerabilities that his engineering team team found in the stock installation of the OS,” according to PopSci. The cost? $3,500.

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