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Tips on keeping your smartphone safe

Chances are that you’re reading this on your smartphone. Why not? It lives in our pockets and we can use it to browse social media, shop, get directions, do our banking, and more. Smartphones have become part of our everyday life, to the point where we probably don’t realise how much personal information we have stored on them.

We put a lot of trust in our phones, as they let us stay in touch with other people, store our passwords, and allow us to install fun and useful apps. According to Deakin University’s Chair in Mathematics and the principal architect of Deakin’s Cyber Security course, Professor Lynn Batten, this is the reason smartphones are being targeted by hackers. ‘Criminals want to obtain your personal information, such as your driver’s licence number, or address. They also target banking passwords and PINs, in hopes of accessing bank accounts’.

So how do we keep our smartphones safe? Prof Batten has given us some useful common sense advice, as our smartphones become an even larger part of our lives.

1. Use a passcode

Do you have a passcode on your phone? If you don’t, you should. According to the Australia Mobile Telecommunications Association more than 200,000 smartphones are reported lost or stolen each year. ‘The majority of smartphones are left in taxis and at the gym’ Prof Batten says. ‘Having a passcode on your phone, and ensuring you don’t lose it, is the simplest and best way to protect your personal information stored on the device.’

2. Check your apps

Ranging from useful to fun, apps are an integral reason as to why smartphones have become so entrenched in our everyday life. However, do you really know what your apps are doing beyond their stated purpose?

Advertising is the way that most apps make money, and is used by most developers to collect information to offer customised services. ‘While official markets like Apple’s iTunes Store, and Google’s Play Store, regularly test apps to make sure they’re safe, third-party markets don’t’ Prof Batten says. This allows hackers to install malware into ads which they can then use to gather, and then abuse or sell your information for such crimes as identity theft.

The easiest way to stop this from happening is to not download apps you’re not sure of. ‘Read market and app reviews, look at their ratings, and their number of downloads. The best defence is to carry out a thorough background check before downloading any app’ Prof Batten says.

3. Stop targeted advertising

If you just have to have that latest app, or don’t want to wait until more information about it is available, then Prof Batten suggests stopping targeted advertising. ‘It’s as simple as modifying your phone settings to turn off targeted advertising.’

If your privacy is important to you, and you don’t want to run the risk of the ads you see containing malware then this is a great option to protect your smartphone and your personal information. ‘It doesn’t stop ads, but it prevents an app from using unique device IDs as targets, and that protects your information’, Prof Batten says.

'Having a passcode on your phone, and ensuring you don't lose it, is the simplest and best way to protect your personal information stored on the device.'

Prof Lynn Batten,
School of Information Technology, Deakin University

4. Cover your camera

Prof Batten says; ‘It’s possible to actually hack in and turn your phone’s video on.’ Edward Snowden claimed it was possible with a single hidden text message, more people are writing codes to make it happen.

‘It’s not easily identifiable when someone hacks into your smartphones camera, but they can see and hear you.’ Prof Batten continues, and since your camera is an integral part of your smartphone, and not easy to turn off the best option is to simply cover it up with a piece of tape to stop anyone from seeing you.


Want to learn more about protecting your digital systems? Take a look at Deakin’s undergraduate cyber security courses. 

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Prof Lynn Batten
Prof Lynn Batten

Chair in Mathematics, Deakin University

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