What do you have on your phone?

A smart phone. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Written by Lt. Cmdr. Darwin Jensen.

Almost every one of us has a cell phone, smart phone or other electronic device we carry with us every day. Think about the things that we store on those devices – phone numbers of friends, family and/or co-workers; personal information like passwords; information about our place of work, where we like to eat and what we like to do. We use our smart phones to look up places to go, find our favorite activities and chat with friends and family. If this information gets into the wrong hands criminals can steal our identities, access our personal accounts and even harass us. There are a few simple steps we can take to protect our mobile devices from hackers.

Use strong passwords. Choose a password with a mixture of upper/lower case letters, numbers and special characters. Avoid using names and birthdays because that information is easy to get and it won’t take long for hackers to figure it out. A strong password is the first line of defense against those trying to access our information.

Set an idle time limit of five minutes or less. It is easy to set a device down and walk away to get a cup of coffee or use the rest room, but while away, you can get distracted. By setting a time-out limit, which automatically locks the device after a short period of time, we protect our information.

Obtain apps from trusted sources. Hackers build apps used to clone our devices and access our personal information. Trusted sources such as iTunes, Amazon and Google vet the apps they host and the sources they come from. If you don’t know the source, don’t download the app.

Connect mobile devices to a trusted network. When you connect to any public Wi-Fi hotspot with your mobile device, like those found in hotels or coffee shops, your internet activity and device are subject to monitoring and attack by others connected to the same network. This is the case even if the network has a password. Hackers that are connected to the same network can use network “sniffing” programs to capture the traffic on the network. This traffic may contain passwords and other sensitive personal information. If you must conduct personal business on a public Wi-Fi network, always make sure that you have a secure connection to the site before you log in and make sure you log out when finished. Typically a secure connection to a website will have “https://” in the address as well as a lock icon, depending on the web browser.

Don’t “jail-break” devices. “Jail-breaking” a device removes the manufacturer’s built-in security features. Users could potentially have their information stolen or unwilling download malware the manufacturer’s software is designed to protect against.

Enroll in phone locator services. These types of services not only help locate a lost or stolen device, but most allow the device to be wiped clean of sensitive personal information.

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