4 Best Practices to Protect the Sensitive Data on Your Smartphone

8 October 2015

Whether using mobile banking apps, mobile payment technology like Apple Pay, or simply shopping from their smartphones, millions of consumers now entrust their mobile devices with their financial information. While these capabilities have made transactions such as depositing a check, paying back a friend or comparing products more convenient than ever, they also provide yet another avenue for financial information to be compromised. What’s especially threatening about this source? It can hold dozens of account and card numbers, login credentials and even biometric data in a single place, raising the stakes if it were ever to be stolen.

Like when your personal information first took to the Web with the introduction of ecommerce and online banking, using this cell phone technology requires consumers to embrace new security habits. While they are far from foolproof, smartphones have been designed for a user base that is much more informed about keeping their personal data safe than those who punched their credit card numbers into the first ecommerce websites. In practice, this security-minded design takes shape in privacy features that, while underutilized, are easy to understand and enable.

To get you started, here are four best practices you should know about (and start using!) to keep the data on your smartphone secure:

  1. Self-destructing lock screen
    As advanced as smartphone technology is, the ways in which it is vulnerable can be alarmingly simple. Physical theft of your device could give anyone card information or purchasing power in your name that would make credit fraud effortless, especially considering many security features (email confirmations or two-step verification) take place all on the same device. To keep this valuable information away from unwanted users, enable a self-destructing lock screen on your device. This feature prevents thieves from trying out different passwords to get into your phone by erasing all data stored on the phone after a certain number of failed attempts.
  2. Turn off unnecessary settings
    While features like location services, Bluetooth and near field communication allow your phone to do some pretty extraordinary things, they can also be leveraged by hackers to gain access to your device. To keep hackers from abusing this always-open line of communication between your phone and whatever other devices are listening, turn off these functions when your phone, or even specific apps, are not in use.
  3. Be sure to download the right apps
    Just like phishing emails designed to look like legitimate corporate communications, fraudulent apps sit in the app store waiting for consumers to download them and offer up their personal and financial information. Before downloading apps, especially those with which you will manage your sensitive data, make sure that all the details of the app come from the original company or correct developer. Another way to spot fakes is to take a look at the app’s reviews and ratings. If a popular banking or payment service has no comments or ratings, chances are it is not the real app.
  4. Wipe your device remotely
    Because it’s impossible to plan not to lose your phone, it can be more effective to install an app that can help you when you do. Androids and iOS devices have apps that can help you locate your device when you lose it, which can prove crucial so you can retrieve your phone before anyone has a chance to try breaking into it. If you cannot locate your phone, or if it appears someone has already found it, some of these apps give you the option to wipe the data from your phone remotely.

If you believe the data on your phone has been compromised, a credit monitoring service like Identity Guard will monitor and alert you to certain types of activity on your account that may indicate fraud.