Whether in a cafe, shopping mall or hotel, public WLAN networks are convenient, often free of charge and help to conserve the data volume included in the tariff. The problem with this: you’re vulnerable to cybercriminals who can spy on your data traffic. Online banking on public networks is therefore an absolute no-no. Data connections that are not protected by HTTPS certificate (recognizable by the URL) should also be avoided as far as possible. If you want additional security, you should also use a virtual private network (VPN). They route the connection to the network via their own VPN server, changing the IP address in the process and thus increasing anonymity in the worldwide data network.
In addition, the transmitted information – depending on the VPN provider – is encrypted. This makes things much more difficult for uninvited onlookers. However, users must pay attention to which VPN provider they select. Because the services offered and the level of protection are sometimes very different from each other. Most free VPNs, for example, offer less protection or even store some data themselves. In the worst case, the VPN as such would be a kind of spy app.
Tip 3: Perform regular security updates
For both Apple’s iPhones and Android devices, manufacturers distribute so-called security updates at irregular intervals. These close various security gaps and improve virus protection. However, there are major differences that occur depending on the operating system and manufacturer chosen. While Apple regularly supplies its iPhones with security updates over a long period of time, the situation is largely different for Android smartphones. It is true that the company behind Android, Alphabet or Google, publishes monthly security patches. However, these must first be adapted by each manufacturer to the user interface of the model in question. This in turn costs both time and money, so that cheaper devices from unknown manufacturers only very rarely receive regular updates. Things look better for established manufacturers of Android smartphones like Xiaomi or Samsung. But even here, Google’s security updates are usually discontinued after two to three years at the latest. In this category, iPhone users have a clear lead.
Furthermore, when buying a smartphone – whether second-hand or from a retailer – users should pay attention to when the respective smartphone appeared on the market. Because the update period, which usually lasts two years, does not begin when the phone is purchased, but when it is launched on the market. However, there is no clear rule here – at least not yet. The EU has been planning to introduce regulation for some time now that would require manufacturers by law to distribute updates for their electronic products. However, the regulation has not yet been implemented.
Tip 4: Do not allow applications from unknown sources
Another issue that affects Android users in particular is the installation of apps from unknown sources. An application APK (Android package) is simply downloaded from the Internet (for example, using a browser) and manually installed on the smartphone. In this way, the control of Google’s Play Store can be bypassed. This gives the user the opportunity to personalize the cell phone as desired. At least if the developer of the app as well as the website where the installer was downloaded are trustworthy.
Otherwise, it can quickly happen that one not only does not protect the cell phone, but installs malware independently. If you are not 100 percent sure that the app is free of viruses or spy tools, it is better to leave the Android setting "Allow apps from unknown sources" disabled. And even if the app is trusted, it is recommended to turn off said setting right after installation. This must be done for each application or browser individually.
Tip 5: Check app permissions
Apart from viruses, numerous user data can also get to third parties in another, (semi-)official way: via apps available in the App Store and Play Store that are nevertheless dubious. These can often be recognized by the fact that they require more authorizations than they need for their own functionality. Fortunately, you can check the exact permissions for each application in the smartphone settings on both Android (Google) and iOS (Apple). If, for example, a calculator app wants access to your contact list or location, that’s a reason to get suspicious. Such permissions can be revoked from individual applications in the settings. They then only receive the information they actually need. Sometimes it would also be better to do without the quasi-spy app altogether, as alternatives are usually plentiful in Google’s Play Store.
Tip: Well-known browsers such as Google’s Chrome or Microsoft’s Edge are not the best choice when it comes to data protection. The alternatives of DuckDuckGo and Tor are much better to protect your privacy. You can find more information on this topic in our guide to Android browsers.
cell phone from theft, "physical" data theft& Protect curious friends
Tip 6: Screen lock and SIM card lock
Apart from the digital dangers that the "World Wide Web" brings, you should also protect your smartphone from physical attacks by criminals as well as curious friends. One of the simplest measures here is to lock the screen. This represents the first and possibly the most important protection barrier. It is well known and most of the users use it. But even here, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure good protection. Thus, PIN code lock remains the safest option to protect the data behind the display. If you prefer pattern unlocking, it is recommended to make sure that you turn off the visibility of the lines that appear when drawing the pattern. This minimizes the risk that a surreptitious glance at your display will give strangers access.
Modern devices also offer unlocking using biometric data – i.e. fingerprint sensor, facial recognition or iris scanner. In terms of security, however, these are also subject to the usual password or PIN code. You also need to disable notifications from important apps, such as mobile banking apps or possibly instant messaging services like WhatsApp, on the lock screen.
In addition to the screen lock, users should also protect the SIM card – if the lock is not already set up anyway. There is little you can do with a protected SIM card. Also, if this is inserted into another smartphone. The lock itself can be activated or deactivated comfortably in the settings. However, if your phone and/or SIM card are actually stolen, it is recommended to contact your provider as well.
And last but not least: In the settings of Android devices can be found under "Users" a so-called guest mode. This can be used to set up a second or third account on the same smartphone, just like on the computer. If a friend asks you for your phone, for example, because he wants to use the browser, you can switch the account with just one click, protecting your privacy.
Tip 7: Find stolen or lost cell phone
All the measures already mentioned won’t help much if the smartphone slips out of your pocket unnoticed or a thief gets his hands on it. In this case, however, there are also some ways to solve the problem with a bit of luck. Both iPhones and Android devices offer functions to query the location, lock the phone remotely or delete all data. How that can be accomplished, explains an appropriate councellor.
However, there are also some limitations. For the device to be trackable, among other things, there must be a connection to the Internet and location services must be activated. These problems can be solved with anti-theft software as well as some antivirus programs. The functionality is quite similar, but you can also send SMS commands to the missing phone. This way, you can turn on features like the Internet connection or location tracking remotely – even without rooting the smartphone beforehand.
Such anti-theft apps offer a fairly high level of protection, but even these are not ideal. So such applications, just like their official iOS and Android counterparts, must have been set up prior to the theft. In addition, a display lock is also recommended here, because otherwise thieves can simply switch off the functions and thus counteract any remote access. Last but not least, the owner should act quickly. Because once the battery is depleted, there’s not much that can be done about it.
In addition, you should always be logged in with your Google account. Even if a screen lock is set up, it is still possible to perform a so-called hard reset. However, when setting up in this case must necessarily enter the password of the Google account. In this case, thieves with less IT skills will not be able to use the stolen phone anymore.
Tip 8: Be careful with USB and Bluetooth connections
Although the risk of getting malware or spy apps on the phone via USB connection is quite low, it does exist. This is why it is best to connect the smartphone only to trusted computers. If you want to charge your device, you should also make sure that only the power and not the data connection is activated in the settings that appear when you plug in the cable. Alternatively, a so-called "USB condom" can help here, which also does not allow data connection as an adapter. The same also applies to wireless connections such as Bluetooth. For the cell phone to be truly protected, they must remain switched off unless they are needed at the time.
Who is attentive can protect his cell phone
All of the above protection measures can be a great help when it comes to protecting an operating system from viruses, malware, spy apps, and other threats, as well as increasing smartphone security in general. However, all this does not help much if the user himself is not attentive. If you receive an e-mail from a Nigerian prince, for example, you should remain critical. And also not every URL address contained in a WhatsApp chain letter must necessarily be visited – keyword: phishing. The biggest contribution to protecting a smartphone is still made by the owner themselves.