AMU APU Cyber & AI Cybercrime Original

6 Tips to Maintain Cell Phone Security for the Holidays

By Dr. A. J. Rutherford
Faculty Member, School of Security and Global Studies

The holiday season is upon us once again. With all the food, fun and high spirits also comes a malicious character’s wish list that includes compromising your cell phone security and capturing your personal data.

As we all run off to the mall, we grab our cell phones, credit cards and shopping lists to head to the most packed places we can find to grab amazing deals. However, keep in mind that hackers are out in public too with their technological tools to steal private information from your cell phone. The worst part of their presence is you won’t know about the theft of your personal information until it is too late. 

According to the Federal Communications Commission, 40% of theft in the U.S. involves cell phones and this percentage is just the physical theft of cell phones. But physical theft is not the only way that hackers steal your information; they can also steal it through the use of technology.

However, there are various ways to protect your information. Here are six tips to aid you in ensuring your cell phone security.

#1: Stay in Physical Control of Your Cell Phone

Distractions such as being busy at the sales counter or testing out products can lead to someone else stealing your cell phone. Maintaining constant physical control of your cell phone is paramount to your security, however.

To decrease your risk of theft and improve your cell phone’s security, develop a standard operating procedure for how you store your phone. Consider these questions:

  • Do you keep your cell phone in your pocket? 
  • Is it always in your dominant hand? 
  • Is it in your purse? 

Whatever it is that you do to maintain physical control over your phone, be consistent with it.  Having consistent habits is the best way to mitigate the risk of forgetting to pick up your phone from a sales counter, desk, bench or table.

#2: Watch for the Prying Eyes of Social Engineers

Additionally, be wary of prying eyes in public. In today’s world where we are more crowded than ever, social engineering is at an all-time high and shoulder surfing to capture information from your cell phone is a hacker’s tool of the trade.

To protect criminals from seeing your log-in information and other private data, treat yourself to a privacy screen protector. These protectors are available from Amazon for about $10.

#3: Vary Your Passwords and Use Multi-Factor Authentication to Improve Cell Phone Security

With all the personal devices, email addresses and social media accounts that we have these days, we have multiple passwords. Even though there are digital key chains available to store our passwords, we are all guilty of poor password management because we want our devices to be easy to use.

In creating passwords, we might repeatedly use a favorite number, a simple name or a certain keyword. Unfortunately, those parts of a password are all too easy for a hacker to guess.

It’s important to master good password practices as you seek to improve your cell phone security. Be sure make your passwords difficult to guess, use unique passwords for different accounts and implement multi-factor authentication (MFA) to create a better defense to your cell phone.

#4: Use Biometrics to Lock Your Phone

Biometrics – combining something you know (like a password) with something you are (the image of a face or a fingerprint) – is a good way to provide additional protection for your phone. Using this type of image to provide security for your cell phone is known as mobile biometric authentication.

For cell phones, the most common biometric identifier is either a fingerprint or facial image.  Most cell phones allow users to capture their fingerprint or facial image to allow access to the phone.

Using a fingerprint or facial image offers better security than just a password when your phone is lost or stolen, since this type of image is more difficult for a criminal to fake. The option of using this type of security is there on almost all phones, so implement biometric identification along with a strong, hard-to-guess password.

RELATED: Biometrics: A Useful Solution to IoT Security Problems

#5: Use Public Wi-Fi Cautiously

When we’re away from home, we may turn to public Wi-Fi. However, Wi-Fi sites can be compromised, so do not use public Wi-Fi without following some basic and simple security rules. 

First, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and only visit sites where the web address is marked as “https” (the “s” indicates that a website is secure). Second, look to see if your browser indicates that a site is not secure; Google Chrome is good at letting users know if their connection is secure or not. Lastly, turn off Airdrop or File Sharing, since this software simply opens up your phone for being compromised by hackers.

#6: Avoid ‘Juice Jacking’ by Using a Portable Battery Charger

To ensure that your phone can be easily recharged when needed, treat yourself to a good portable charger for about $100. Avoid using public charging stations as you can expose yourself to “juice jacking.” 

Juice jacking occurs when hackers install malware on a dirty USB port (the kind you see at airport and mall charging stations). When you use these public charging stations, you can unwittingly give full access to your phone and its information to a hacker. Instead, use a regular power outlet to recharge your phone or other electronic device.

It’s also wise to be wary of strangers offering to let you use their charging cord. These cords can be dangerous because they have hidden components that can steal your information as your electronic device is being recharged.  

There are many more best practices for improving your cybersecurity, such as installing software updates, downloading software, adjusting your location settings and managing pop-up ads. However, the six tips I’ve provided for ensuring your cell phone security are simple, easy to implement, and will help to keep your personal data safe and secure in busy public places. Happy holidays!

RELATED: How You Can Determine and Minimize Your Digital Footprint

Dr. Rutherford is a retired Marine and currently a security consultant. He has taught cybersecurity and homeland security courses at various universities since 2009. Dr. Rutherford has a B.A. in homeland security from American Military University (AMU), a M.A. in intelligence studies from AMU, and a Ph.D. in information security and assurance from Capella University.

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