We’ve written in the past about what to do if you discover that your phone has been lost — or worse — stolen. While the advice that you’d get in a situation like that is certainly valid and helpful, one thing most people who have gone through the experience have probably wished is that they had taken certain steps beforehand to secure their devices (and the data they contain) and make their phone less hackable. More and more, our smartphones are the cornerstone of our entire lives, holding vital information that could be used and exploited by just about anyone, if we aren’t careful. The good news is, there are some things you can do right now to ensure that if your phone does fall into the wrong hands, it won’t be a simple process for them to invade your privacy and turn your life upside down.
How to make your phone less hackable before it falls into the wrong hands
Whether you’re tech savvy or not, there are some steps you can take to protect the data on your phone. Follow our tips to ensure better peace of mind the next time you can’t locate your device.
1. Put a PIN in it.
Most smartphones these days, even the most basic models, offer some sort of screen-locking capability. In more advanced phones, this can take the form of a “knock code” created by tapping on different areas of the screen in a specific pattern, drawing an image or pattern with your finger or using your fingerprint to unlock it, while basic phones might just offer the standard numerical PIN option. Regardless of what option you choose, using one of these can be a true data saver, preventing strangers from being able to access the contents of your phone instantaneously. Many phones will even let you set up a safety feature that erases the data if there are too many incorrect guesses in a row — though it’s important to remember to back up your data regularly if you use this setting. Those who are a bit more tech savvy can go a little further and place digital locks on specific apps, folders and even require one at startup before your phone will even load anything.
2. Enable encryption.
Encrypting the data on your phone will make it so anyone who has access to your phone can’t make sense of its contents, even if they do manage to gain access to it (something that was a key aspect of 2015’s FBI vs. Apple showdown). Many modern smartphones already come equipped with some level of encryption, but depending on who manufactures your phone, you may need to take some steps to ensure that it’s enabled. Although enabling encryption can make some older or lower-end phones perform slowly, most newer phones are more than capable of handling the process of encrypting and decrypting data whenever you unlock your phone. Likewise, if your phone has a removable SD card, make sure you take the time to encrypt it as well. The encryption process itself can take up to an hour, so make sure you plan when you’re going to do it for a time when you don’t need to use your phone and can leave it on its charger for a while.
3. Take advantage of built-in protections available to you.
If you’re an Android user, chances are you’ve connected your phone to a Google account. Did you know that you can log into your Google account from anywhere and remotely locate your phone, make it ring (even if the volume is muted) and wipe all the data on it? These types of protections have been available to users for a while, but they aren’t default settings, which means you have to do the work to ensure that they’re properly activated. You can manage these settings and other security aspects by going to your Google account settings and clicking the “Find my phone” link. Bear in mind, you’ll need geolocation services activated in order for the location aspect to work.
iPhone users have similar protections, in the form of the “Find My iPhone” app, which likewise requires that geolocation services be turned on. In addition to being able to remotely locate your phone with this app, you can make it play a sound, put it into “lost mode” or erase the data on it completely.
If you’d like additional protection beyond what comes built into your phone, you can also opt to download a security app. Some of these have special capabilities specifically designed to help you recover a stolen device (or make things difficult on a would-be hacker or thief), such as the ability to take a photo of anyone attempting to enter an incorrect passcode.
Don’t forget to back up your data!
The ability to encrypt your data to prevent it from being read by strangers or remotely wipe a device is definitely worth your while, but it’s also important to make sure that you are backing up copies of your important photos, messages and more so that if the worst case scenario does happen, you won’t lose everything. Alongside choosing a reputable cloud storage service to back up to, it’s important to make sure you use a strong password to secure that account and schedule regular backups. The last thing you want is to realize that you lost a month’s worth of data because you weren’t running regular backups!
To learn more about protecting your privacy, follow our blog on the topic.