August 18, 2022
How to protect your smartphone’s data, and avoid getting hacked

The government hack of the iPhone used by the San Bernardino killer serves as a reminder that phones and other electronic devices are not impenetrable.

While most people are not targets of the NSA, the FBI or any foreign government, hackers seek to steal the financial and personal information of ordinary people. Your phone stores more than just selfies. For example, your email account on the phone is the gateway to resetting banking and other sensitive passwords.

Just like washing your hands and brushing your teeth, a little “cyber hygiene” can go a long way toward preventing disaster.

lock your phone with passcode
Not doing so is like leaving your front door open.

A four-digit passcode — along with a self-destruct feature that can erase a phone’s data after too many miscalculations — stumped the FBI for weeks and forced them to bring in outside help. Using six digits makes the passcode 100 times harder to guess. And if you want to make it even more difficult, you can add letters and other characters to further increase the number of possible combinations. These are options on both iPhone and Android.

Under Touch ID & Passcode, the iPhone’s self-destruct feature is something you’ll need to turn on in Settings. Do this, and the phone will automatically clean itself after 10 failed attempts. But 10 attempts also apply to your guesses, if you forget your passcode, or if your kids start punching in numbers randomly. Android has a similar feature.

Both systems will also introduce a waiting period after many incorrect guesses making it difficult to try all combinations.

Biometrics, such as fingerprint scanners, can act as a shortcut and make processing complex passcodes less of a pain.

use encryption
To the displeasure of the FBI, iPhones running at least iOS 8 offer full-disk encryption by default. This means that the information stored on the phone – cannot be extracted by the authorities or by hackers – and can be read on any other computer. If the phone is not unlocked first, any information obtained will be scrambled and unreadable.

However, with Android, you usually have to turn it on in Settings. Google’s policy requires many phones with the latest version of Android, including their own Nexus phones, to offer encryption by default. But, according to Google, currently only 2.3 percent of active Android devices are running that version.

set up device finder
Find My iPhone isn’t just for finding your phone in the couch cushion.

If your device goes missing, you can put it in lost mode. It locks your screen with a passcode, if it isn’t already, and lets you display a custom message with a phone number to help you get it back.

The app comes with the iPhone, but you’ll need to set it up before you can lose your phone. Look for the Find iPhone app in Extras Folder.

Meanwhile, Activation Lock makes it harder for thieves to sell your device. The phone becomes unusable – cannot be reactivated – without knowing its Apple ID. This feature starts automatically on phones running at least iOS 7.

If all else fails, you can remotely wipe the phone’s data. While your information will be lost, at least it will not fall into the hands of a nefarious person.

Android phones don’t have anything comparable, but Google’s Android Device Manager app, along with a few others made by third parties, can be downloaded for free from the Google Play app store.

back up your phone
If you need to remotely wipe the phone’s data, it’s comforting to know that you won’t lose all your photos and other important data. This is also helpful if your child submerges your phone in a glass of water.

As mentioned earlier, apps like Find My iPhone and Android Device Manager will allow you to do this, provided you set them up ahead of time.

keep your software up to date
Software updates often contain solutions to known flaws that can give hackers a way into your device.

On iPhones, Apple prompts you to get an update.

It’s more complicated with Android as the update has to go through various phone manufacturers and wireless carriers first. But install updates when asked.

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