Not that long ago, you would be happy if your mobile phone had enough memory to store 100 contacts, and you would be ecstatic if it could also store the same number of text messages.
Today, your smartphone can not only store a virtually infinite number of contacts and text messages, but it can also provide access to your emails, cloud documents, and even your desktop computer—you just need the right app. But with more capabilities come more security threats. Now that smartphones are basically small, internet-connected computers that we carry with us everywhere we go, they are juicy targets for cybercriminals. Proactively protecting them is now an absolute must.
Smartphone Security Threats Can Lead to a Big Data Breach
Back when we used mobile devices almost exclusively for basic voice and text communication, their potential to cause a costly data breach was fairly limited. Sure, theft, loss, and the associated information leakage were concerns, but it was always clear to mobile users how to protect themselves against it.
When it comes to modern smartphones, physical theft and device loss are just the tip of a massive iceberg consisting of all kinds of dangerous security threats that can lead to a data breach, including:
- Malicious apps: Not all app developers have their users’ best interest in mind. Data from the cybersecurity firm Upstream and its Secure-D research wing reveal that more than 29,000 malicious apps were spotted in the first quarter of 2020 alone, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only given cybercriminals more reasons to focus their efforts on mobile users.
- Unsecured Wi-Fi: One thing that makes smartphones so useful is their ability to connect to the internet over Wi-Fi. The problem is that free public Wi-Fi networks are seldom as secure as your office Wi-Fi, and some may even be downright malicious, set up as honeypots to steal information from unsuspecting users.
- Web exploits: The web is a dangerous place, and not just for those who access it using desktop web browsers such as Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome, or Mozilla Firefox. Now that most web traffic comes from mobile devices, there’s no shortage of web exploits that specifically target mobile web browsers.
- Phishing: Mobile devices are a central focus for many multi-factor authentication As a result, most mobile users sooner or later encounter a suspicious phone call, email, or text message asking them to disclose sensitive information as part of a phishing attack.
- Zero-days: Mobile operating systems and the apps running on them are not flawless, and they may contain unpatched vulnerabilities that can be exploited to gain access to protected resources. Older devices that are no longer supported by their manufacturers are especially vulnerable.
5 Ways to Protect Smartphones from Cyber Threats
As scary as the smartphone security threats that we mentioned above may seem, the steps that organizations can take to protect themselves from them are actually not that difficult to implement.
1. Create a Mobile Usage Policy
Your first step to protect smartphones from cyber threats should be the creation of a mobile usage policy. It’s deceivingly simply but absolutely indispensable since this policy informs employees about what is and is not acceptable use of their smartphones.
Your mobile usage policy should cover basic anti-theft measures and mandatory security settings, including the need to enter a unique PIN code to unlock the device. It should also specify which devices employees are allowed to use and for what purposes.
Regardless of whether you allow your employees to bring their personal mobile devices to work or not, you need to place restrictions on how they are used, since jailbreaking (basically unlocking a phone) and rooting (essentially becoming your phone’s superadmin), are huge security risks.
2. Keep Your Mobile Devices Updated
Even though Android 9 Pie is widely known to be outdated technology, over 16 percent of Android devices still use it to this day. Similarly, the latest major version of iOS (14) is currently found on just 77 percent of all iOS-based devices.
That’s not good because mobile devices running outdated software are far more likely to contain security holes than their up-to-date counterparts. For this reason alone, it’s always a good idea to replace unsupported devices, even though this practice may seem a bit wasteful.
In addition to the operating system itself, it’s also critically important to update individual apps as soon as new versions become available, something that more modern smartphones can do automatically.
3. Avoid Downloading Potentially Unsafe Apps
Official app stores go to great lengths to prevent malicious developers from reaching end users. For example, Google scans both new and existing apps for malware using an automated antivirus system called Google Play Protect, and the company also monitors which apps require an unusually high number of permissions to provide the same functionality other apps provide without them.
Knowing that official app stores are so well protected (but like pretty much everything else, not perfectly), many malicious developers focus their attention on third-party stores instead. So much so in fact, that third-party app stores are believed to host 99.9 percent of discovered mobile malware.
The lesson here is clear: download apps only from official app stores and think twice before granting them permissions to access your personal information.
4. Protect Data Stored on Smartphones
The storage capacity of the average modern smartphone starts at 16 GB, which translates roughly to 300,000+ pages of Word documents. That’s a lot of data that could potentially fall into the wrong hands unless their fully protected even while they aren’t being used.
Fortunately, both Android and iOS smartphones now support device encryption, making it possible to encode all data using a strong encryption algorithm that makes it seem like random digital noise to those who don’t know the right password.
In addition to encryption, users set up a screen lock to prevent unauthorized access to the mobile operating system and installed apps. A simple pattern lock gets the job done, but biometric authentication is preferred.
5. Invest in Smartphone Security Software
So far, all the methods to protect smartphones from cyber threats that we’ve described in this article require no financial investment. But there’s one investment you should definitely consider making: the purchase of smartphone security software.
Best-in-class smartphone security software will not only protect your mobile devices against malware, but it will also let you remotely monitor user behavior to spot anomalies that could indicate phishing attempts, device theft, and other threats. You can then use the same software to remotely lock the affected device and, if necessary, wipe all of the data that’s stored on it.
Some smartphone security software even comes bundled with a mobile VPN which secures data that’s in transit over a public Wi-Fi network. From end to end, it’s comprehensive protection that’s worth paying for.
Strengthen Your Smartphone’s Security Right Now
Attacks on smartphones are only going to get worse and more frequent. That is unless organizations start protecting them with the same level of commitment that they do for their servers, desktop computers, and laptops.
We know that the safety of a company’s resources—that means people and money as well as data—is and should always be the top priority. And that safety only comes when all endpoints are sufficiently protected. That’s why it’s our primary goal to offer to the most comprehensive managed cybersecurity services alongside the best customer service and technology support that you can find. Start the conversation and let us show you what a safe future looks like.