5 tips to secure your smartphone and prevent hackers from stealing your data

Passengers using their mobile phones on board a train.
Passengers using their mobile phones on board a train.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The modern smartphone is a powerful portable computer, giving users the ability to make purchases online and perform banking transactions.

But like any computer, your smartphone can be targeted and compromised by hackers, which can be a painful and costly lesson.

Hackers can gain access to private data, including credit card information, and even intercept passwords sent by banks by infecting phones with malware - programs that can scan your phone for information and send them to hackers without you realising.

 

Here are some ways to keep your phone safe:

1. Do not open e-mail links or attachments from unknown senders

One of the most common way hackers spread their malware is by sending e-mails with attachments that contain malicious code. The e-mails can sound innocent but the attachments could potentially infect your phone.

2. Do not click on pop-up ads or 'clickbait' posts on social media

This is another way hackers spread their malware. When a user clicks on a pop-up ad or on a post with a particularly alluring title, they may be redirected to a website that downloads malware onto the phone.

3. Do not install third-party apps that are not from the app store

Both Apple and Google screen apps in their app stores for malicious code. Although it's not foolproof - Apple recently removed 4,000 apps found to contain malware from their app store in September 2015 - the apps there are safer than apps found in forums or dodgy sites on the Internet.

iOS users may not need to worry about this as Apple does not allow users to install apps from any source outside their official store unless the iPhone is modified or jailbroken.

Android users, however, are more at risk as the operating system does allow users to install third-party apps.

Users who want to stay safe and refuse access to third-party apps can refuse permissions to install them. This can be done by going into Settings ->Security -> Uncheck "Unknown Sources: Allow installation of apps from sources other than the Play Store".

4. Opt for one-time passwords to be generated by a security token rather than receiving them via SMS

Security tokens are safer than mobile phones as they are isolated devices that malware cannot reach.

They may be inconvenient, but if hackers do not have access to the OTPs, their transactions cannot go through.

5. Check your phone for malware with an anti-virus app

If you suspect your phone has malware, you can run an anti-virus app that will check for common variants of malware.

You can download such anti-virus apps from either Apple's or Google's App Store. To be even safer, go for apps by trusted companies, such as AVG, Avast, Norton or Kaspersky. 

Experts say that anti-virus software is unnecessary for most mobile users as long as they have practised safe surfing habits and do not click on suspicious links or download unauthorised apps.