Smartphones and tablets have become virtually ubiquitous. You just need to take a stroll through any shopping centre or sit at a coffee shop to see people staring down at their devices. With the cost of phones coming down as technology evolves, more people are embracing the connected lifestyle. Even mobile data is becoming (slightly) more affordable, resulting in an increase in usage.
Fortunately, we are also seeing an increasing number of freely available public Wi-Fi hotspots to use for access to social networking, online banking, and so on. But what does it mean for our security?
We know too well that the humble smartphone can be as vulnerable to a hack or virus as a computer. In fact, smartphones have become mini-computers themselves and deserve the same degree of caution in a world filled with cyber security threats and attacks.
As a first step, you should keep your mobile device locked. Yes, it is annoying to put in that pin, draw the pattern, or even use the retina scan to unlock your phone every time you want to use it, but consider the alternative. Chances are that all your sensitive personal information (think financial records, social media passwords, and the like) is contained on your trusted mobile device.
Now imagine what would happen if someone steals it and starts trawling through your social media profiles. Even worse, think of the shopping spree that could ensue just from using your Amazon or Takealot profiles that you logged into on your mobile.
Secondly, it is always advisable to consider encrypting your sensitive information. If the information is encrypted, criminals will not be able to access it when they get their grubby little paws on your device. Most smart devices provide an option to encrypt data, and there are quite a few cost-effective ones available from your preferred app store. While it might feel like an inconvenience to continually encrypt or decrypt information, it has become a much more user-friendly process than in the past.
We live in an app-driven world. But how often do you view the permissions before installing said application on your phone or tablet? If there is no reason to access your contacts or your phone dialler, then why should you approve it when the app requires the permission? Just think logically what the app needs to use it for and then make an informed decision.
Another tip to keep you safe in the digital world is to install security software on your phone and tablet. These devices are open to the same risks as your computer so why should you not protect them in the same way? All the well-known vendors have anti-virus and security software available for mobile devices, with several offering good-quality free solutions as well.
Thanks to a certain fruit-flavoured technology company, people are increasingly using Bluetooth headsets for their smartphones. And while Bluetooth is wonderful (we’ve heard) for this connectivity, leaving it on is a significant security risk. Switch it off when not paired to your headset to keep your phone safe and to reduce the drain on its battery.
Of course, beyond protecting your device there are a few things to keep in mind when using publicly available Wi-Fi hotspots for your downloading and surfing pleasure. Cybercriminals often use these networks to intercept data. It is a great way for them to steal people’s banking credentials, passwords, and other sensitive information.
Always assume a public hotspot is insecure and that any information you transfer through it could be stolen. So, if you want to do some online shopping or banking while having a coffee, rather use your cellular network which is significantly more secure.
Another way malicious users are using these hotspots to get information is by setting up a fake link. Often, these names could be misspellings on the name of the coffee shop or hotel you are visiting. It could also be something as simple as ‘Free Public Hotspot’ to entice you to connect your device to it. This is all the criminal needs to infect your device with malicious software than can steal your information or that of the company you are working for.
While a lot of this might sound like fear-mongering, the reality is that cyberattacks are becoming more prevalent. In the connected world, always assume there is someone out to get you or at least access your private information. For all the convenience that living online provides, there will always be a degree of risk attached to it. So, let common sense prevail when going online and never share anything you do not want made public.