Andy Fleming writing on cell phones…

When it comes to your personal data, cellphones are potentially a bigger and easier target than a personal computer for hackers. We use our smartphones for everything, including banking transactions and online purchases; and there’s multiple ways for a hacker to compromise their security.

It’s convenient to access your accounts from any location with a signal…unfortunately this convenience lends itself to some greater risks. Even if you avoid using your cellphone to make credit card purchases or deposit checks, it could still carry personal information, like your mother’s maiden name, that can be used to compromise other accounts.

Here’s some tips for staying safe when using your cellphone. Many of these tips can also be applied to tablets for increased security.

1. Update Your Software and Apps Immediately

Cell Phone

©iStock.com/German

We’re all guilty of ignoring those “update available” messages that seem to pop up at least once a week. Unfortunately, even small updates often address important security vulnerabilities, and everything should be updated as soon as possible. Anti-virus programs are the most important, but don’t forget that social media apps like Facebook can be used to access personal information.

2. Download an Anti-Virus App

Cell Phone Security

Every new phone should immediately be outfitted with antivirus software. This is especially important for Android phones, but iPhone users will benefit from increased security as well. Avast offers one of the best free mobile anti-virus apps on both iPhone and Android. Most anti-virus apps will also allow you to lock or wipe your phone remotely if it is lost or stolen.

3. Use Different Passwords

Cell Phone

It’s best to use a different password for every account. This can be difficult, and no one can be expected to remember 20 different, complex passwords. At the very least, it’s a good idea to use unique, strong passwords for apps that access your bank accounts or store payment information. You can use a password manager like LastPass or Keeper to generate and keep track of different passwords. Programs like these are difficult to compromise and will allow you to use complex passwords without fear of forgetting them.

4. Avoid Using Public Wi-Fi

Cell Phone

©iStock.com/chaluk

While public Wi-Fi hotspots are convenient, they pose some of the biggest threats to your security. Hackers can deploy extremely advanced tools over public Wi-Fi that allow them to guess your passwords based on input from your phone’s microphone and camera. While doing a simple google search might not pose much of a threat, you should always avoid doing any shopping or banking on any Wi-Fi connection other than your own. Make sure ‘automatic connections to Wi-Fi hotspots’ is disabled so that you know exactly when you’re connected to an unsecured network. If you have to access your bank on the go, use your cell network instead. It may eat up more data, but it’s worth it in the long run.

5. Only Use Apps from the Official App Store

Cell Phone

©iStock.com/DKart

Unless you’re an electronics expert, it can be difficult to determine which apps are potentially malicious. Generally speaking, apps available on the official iPhone or Android app store have been verified as safe. Apps from third party sites should be avoided.

6. Use a Secure Lock Screen

Cell Phone

©iStock.com/Courtney Keating

Having a strong password for your lock screen will protect your phone from hacks and in the event of theft. A typical four or six-digit pin can be hacked in minutes, while a strong, alpha-numeric pass code with nine or more characters could take months to compromise. A strong screen lock passcode is generally better than the facial recognition or voice recognition options some phones offer.

7. Use A VPN

Cell Phone

If you want to be really secure, you can’t beat a strong VPN. These “virtual private networks” will encrypt your data on multiple levels, making your device extremely difficult to hack. This makes surfing the web on public Wi-Fi much safer. This is a more “extreme” solution, but if security is important to you it’s the best option. VPN services generally charge a monthly fee of around $20 and can be found on your device’s official app store. Vypr and IPVanish are both strong choices.

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