Ariel Coro, tech and cyber security expert recently shared some tips on how to protect your identity in the age of smartphones. Coro was invited to Primer Impacto, Univision’s highly-rated news magazine watched by millions of Hispanics in the United States.
Thanks to the wide variety of devices and social networks, people have more online interactions than ever. That’s why it is so important to be mindful and careful with your smartphone. You need to treat your smartphone like a pocket computer because that’s what it truly is. Below are some simple safety tips to follow:
Install a mobile antivirus
Smartphones have more of our personal information than ever. Just for starters our contacts, location information, online browsing habits, banking and financial apps, it’s mind-blowing just how much information can be extracted from a personal smartphone.
You may or may not be surprised but, the majority of these smartphones go unprotected and have no antivirus or anti-spyware. It would only take one click on a malicious link and your phone could be the victim of a hacker.
Just because there hasn’t been a global catastrophic smartphone virus doesn’t mean that there won’t be one. Almost every computing platform that ever existed has had vulnerabilities and smartphones are no exception, it’s just a matter of time.
It’s true that antivirus are most of the time only as good as their signature database, which means that if the virus hasn’t been detected before, the antivirus might not recognize it. These are called zero-day exploits or attacks. The reality is that more than likely, you won’t be the victim of a zero-day attack so there will be time for the antivirus company to come up with a way to detect the attacks that you are vulnerable to or could compromise you. It’s not 100% but it is certainly better than 0% protection.
Here is a free mobile antivirus you can use.
Security questions are stupid
It might have worked in the beginning but nowadays, the answers to the most common security questions can be easily found on your social networks. Your mother’s maiden name? The city where you were born? The place where your parents got married? Your dog’s name? What was your first car? Seriously?
OK, so with a little social engineering and some time on Facebook or Twitter, there is a good chance that these questions about you could be found out.
My advice is simple. Completely ignore the questions and focus on the answers by making sure that they can’t be traced back to you. You mother’s maiden name? Athena. Your first car? Jupiter. The place your parents got married? The center of the Earth. I know, I’m being a little dramatic but you get the point.
Watch out where you get your apps from
There are millions of apps in the app stores, I guarantee you that they are not all safe no matter what Apple or Google would like you to believe. In recent months, security has been tightened in the app stores after some incidents but nothing is perfect. And if you unlocked your phone, you are even more at risk as you lose even the basic safeguards that the app stores offer.
Use two-factor authentication whenever you can
Two-factor authentication is basically something you have like a password and something you have physical access to like a cell phone that can receive texts. This is a little annoying, I admit it, but it can save you the biggest headaches as it is much harder to compromise your accounts, especially your email.
How does it work? Simple, go to your settings within your email provider and it will tell you if it supports it, if it does, turn it on immediately. Trust me.
For example, Google goes one step further and gives you a few options that you should consider. The first one is simply to receive the code via text when you try to sign in to your account. Go to the sign in screen, enter your email and password and the system automatically sends you a text message with a code, input the code when you are prompted and you are good to go. It is unlikely a hacker is also going to have access to your cell phone if they are trying to hack your online account so this makes it way safer.
Recently in Germany, an attack was carried out where a Banking Trojan infected a number of PCs, the Trojan basically stole people’s usernames and passwords to login to the bank and apparently, it also stole their cellphone numbers. When they tried accessing the accounts, they were able to redirect the SMS messages to foreign numbers and received the confirmation codes. They were then able to login to the bank accounts and initiate money transfers.
Use even stronger two-factor authentication
That’s why the last option that I recommend is even stronger and it’s using the Google Authenticator app. This app generates a random code every 60 seconds that you need to enter when you are accessing your account. If you enter an old code, it won’t work and you get a new code every minute. This is pretty secure in my book. In case you lose your phone, Google gives you 10 backup codes that you can use to bypass this system, so make sure to keep those in a safe place.
There are many ways we can get in trouble by using our smartphones but if we take these simple precautions at least we’ll make it harder for the bad guys to get ahold of our information and access our accounts. In the end, you can never know how secure things are on the other end of the connection but at least you need to do your part and wear your cyber seat belt!