How can I set up my phone to protect my information?

Lots of us have our whole lives on our phones, from Social Media accounts, online banking, messaging and email to online shopping. How safe would your information be if your phone was lost or stolen?

Of course if you're looking to keep your phone safe from international spies you probably already know how to do this but if you're just the average smartphone user who wants to be a little safer, follow some of our tips below.

Update your software

Whether you are running iOS, Android or Windows Phone we will always advise you to grab the latest version of the OS available. This can be a little difficult with Android updates often taking a little while to go through manufacturer and network testing but is well worth it.

Part of the reason we suggest grabbing the latest OS is because a lot of the latest security loopholes will have been closed.

These updates don't just pop up in major iterations either sometimes updates will address minor vulnerabilities.

Most manufacturers allow you to set your phone to check for updates automatically, so always make sure this box is ticked.

Encrypt your phone

Even with passcodes and other measures are enabled it might be possible for the experienced thief to crack some of your security, encrypting your phone is one way to make sure that if they get access to your files that it is impossible to read them. Newer versions of Android and iOS do this by default but even older versions of the software still allow you to do this, just head to your settings and enable. Bear in mind that reading encrypted files is slower than reading normal ones so you might notice your phone is a bit slower than before but at least you will be safe. 

Use different passwords and grab a password manager

Using different passwords for each app or security measure is the best way to ensure that even if someone manages to hack their way into one app the damage they can do on the rest of your phone is limited. Remembering 20 different passwords can be tricky though so rather than store them somewhere as plain text for someone to find grab a password manager from the App or Play Store, this will allow you to securely save all your passwords in an encrypted app that only requires one password to get into and for you to remember.

Use a secure lock screen

It seems almost nonsensical in this day and age to not have a password on your lock screen, even if it is a basic one. One of the first things we'd suggest is to navigate into your device's security settings and enable a pass lock.

There are obvious benefits to having even a basic lock, but whilst face lock of Android might seem fun it isn't the most secure system out there, with many Google devices rating the effectiveness of each security system so you can make an informed choice.

  • Face unlock looks fun, but isn't secure. 
  • Pattern unlocks and pins are some of the most secure but if you can handle the hassle we'd always suggest a full alphanumeric password. Also ensure that any boxes that say "make passwords visible" are also unticked.
  • If you want to take it one step further then we'd also recommend changing your pass code regularly in case someone spots what you've typed in over your shoulder.
  • Fingerprint unlock, some modern phones have fingerprint scanners built into the phone, these are secure but can be a hassle to use as they can take several swipes to unlock the phone.

Install antivirus software

One of the biggest threats that could see data leaked is the less-than-humble virus. The problem isn't as widespread as on desktop computers, and if you don't download dodgy software chances are that within a 2 year contract you won't come across anything malicious, but there is still a credible threat out there.

The problem appears to be less hazardous for iPhones thanks to Apple's strict controlling of the App store and downloading apps. The open source nature of Android makes it a lot more vulnerable, as malicious apps can be side loaded onto the device without being checked by Google, if you enable this in your settings. In both cases this is something that can be countered through good housekeeping and anti virus software.

The likes of McAfee, AVG and Lookout grace both the iOS App Store and the Google Play store for added security, and offer basic versions for free, but the best security is to not download any apps that seem suspicious and don't download apps directly from a website or have them sent to your device by a friend.

If you're really worried check out the manufacturer's website as most will come with a link to their mobile app.

Backup your photos and videos

Both iOS and Android make it easy to backup your photos, messages and videos to the cloud where you can download them or transfer them to a new device. iOS enables iCloud services by default and Android will ask you to start backing up the first time you use Picasa, Google Photos or Google+ on your handset or tablet. Windows Phone also can be set up to automatically save to your OneDrive account.

You can also backup to other cloud services, Dropbox as an example will allow you to automatically backup new photos or video from your device and will ask you to enable this when you run it for the first time. Don't forget to go into the settings and set up a pin code for the app, if you choose to use this kind of service, to better protect your data.

Apps like Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger and iMessage will automatically store your messages on their cloud service so that you can download them if needed for other messaging services you might need to enable this in your settings, most apps will have a help section in the settings to check what you need to do to get it working.

Disable apps from untrusted sources and don't root or jailbreak

Whilst it can often be a nice idea to download and install apps that aren't found on the App Store or Google Play Store, these apps tend to be the ones that are less secure. Google, Apple and Microsoft, as well as the likes of BlackBerry, keep tabs on the apps that are on their app portals.

This means apps that contain malicious code are likely to have been removed before you install them.

Rooting your Android phone or jailbreaking your iPhone can also prove really dangerous, especially if you don't know what you're doing. This is because it breaks down your OS and provides you access to the basic code within and if you can get access, malicious code has a much easier route to making changes too.

If you're more familiar with the world of rooting and jailbreaking then you'll have taken measures to ensure the security of your device - so make sure you're certain you know what you want when altering your handset.

Use lock code apps and vaults

One thing that can be particularly important for protecting vital messages and pictures is to add a second layer of security. If you've got a pass code that somehow manages to get into the wrong hands then all your data could potentially be at risk.

With another app you can then add another layer of security by protecting apps with a second code. Vault apps also allow you to be safe by storing all the files that you want to secure within a dedicated area of your device or on an SD card, as well as being able to wipe the data after unsuccessful log in attempts.

Samsung's newer Galaxy phones feature a fingerprint scanner to hide certain parts of your phone too - it might not be the easiest thing to use, but at least you can be doubly secure that nobody can get into the places you want hidden.

Child or Guest Modes

Kid modes, and to a lesser extent guest modes, are also vitally important. The last thing you want is for your child (or your friend) to be messing around on your phone and to stumble across private data, or to later find that they have inadvertently called your boss whilst you're sat discussing a job interview.

These are now prevalent on most Android and Windows devices, as well as being downloadable via the App Store on iOS, but make sure you know how to get out of them when your child has finished - so many people must have spent minutes locked in a crocodile game because they forgot the PIN code.

Keep Location settings enabled

This is something that is less about protecting your device from being stolen or having your data stolen and is much more about getting your handset back should you lose it.

On iOS there is the 'Find my iPhone' app which is exceptionally easy to install and use

For Android Phone you can use Android Device Manager but to use all of the features you need to enable it ahead of time in your settings, find Security and either Device Administrators and check Android Device Manager and this will give you the ability to remotely wipe or lock your phone if needed.

To then find your phone, just navigate to Google Play via a web browser, click the settings wheel and hit Android Device Manager. From here you can locate, ring, lock and erase your device if needed.

For Windows Phone go via WindowsPhone.com and log in with your details to spot its location on a map and make it ring, display a message or erase the whole device. If you're still rocking a BlackBerry, you can use the BlackBerry Protect tool to achieve a similar thing. This needs to be preset on the BlackBerry device, however.

Use wearable tech

One of the key features that can be found within the likes of the Android Wear or Pebble smart watches is the ability to know when you've left your phone behind. As the Bluetooth connection is broken when out of range, the watch buzzes to let you know.

It is also possible to make your phone ring if still in range. This is useful beyond being able to locate your phone when you've dropped it down the back of the sofa; if you know the phone is in reach and but not on your pocket then you can make it ring and track it down.

Set up a SIM lock

On top of securing your phone, make sure that you've locked your SIM if this is important to you.

A SIM lock (sometimes called a SIM PIN or SIM Security) is especially important if you're tied into an uncapped contract, less so if you're on PAYG. This is because it requires you to input a PIN before you make a call or send a message, vital if you want to ensure that thieves can't run up massive bills. It's not the most efficient way to use your phone, but if you're in a place that worries you, head into your security settings to enable it.

Keep sensitive files off your phone

Even better than hiding your files is to make sure the files are never on your phone in the first place.

Having sensitive files on your phone might seem really easy, and with it being the device that you are going to have on your person all the time it seems logical to keep files on it. You might even want to be able to edit documents when out and about, and we see no reason not to.

There is no reason these files need to be on your phone when editing them though. With phones like the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy or iPhone able to support external USB drives via a separate cable or through a wireless USB flash drive, there is no need for these sensitive files to ever be on your handset - so pick up a USB On The Go flash drive and you'll be able to have the best of both worlds.


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