As smartphones and tablets become increasingly popular, cybercrooks are finding new ways to exploit you while you're on the go. Here's how to help avoid the most common attacks and keep your mobile gadgets -- and your identity and finances -- safer.
1. Be Proactive
Mobile security software can help protect your portable devices from malware-laden apps, malicious websites, phishing scams and other attacks. Make sure you keep the software up-to-date.
Creating stronger passwords also beefs up your online security. Additional Apple® and Android™ applications can help you manage passwords while storing them securely.
2. Don't 'Jailbreak' or 'Root' Your Phone
By jailbreaking or rooting your phone, you may be disabling your protection. Phones and tablets come with a number of built-in protections against malware. Jailbreaking and rooting are terms used for the process of taking administrative control over your phone. Jailbreaking applies to Apple devices and rooting to Android devices, but they're essentially the same thing. Either lets you change settings or replace system applications by overriding limitations that mobile service providers and hardware manufacturers put on the devices.
But beware: If you jailbreak or root your devices, you eliminate many or all of the protections provided. Ask yourself: Is customizing my device worth putting my personal information at risk?
3. Only Shop at Authorized App Stores
App stores, such as the Apple App Store, Amazon App Store and Google Play for Android, require that each app they offer for download be approved by the company before it's made available to the public.
The risk comes when you download apps from other locations. Android devices typically have no restrictions to keep you from downloading apps from just about anywhere. By default, iOS devices can only download apps from the App Store, unless the device is jailbroken. The problem is that apps not offered in official app stores may be infected with malware. Even apps that look legitimate may be a repackaged version of a popular app, sold at a discount or offered for free to lure bargain hunters who don't realize they're getting a download full of viruses.
4. Always Check Your Monthly Statements
Just as PC malware is designed to attack computers and steal financial information, hackers use mobile malware to make money. Malware that infects a phone can steal from you by buying apps sold by the hacker using the credit card number stored on your device. The malware also can send SMS messages to services that charge you for each app purchased. A recently detected form of Android malware can be uploaded even to the smartphone user's PC, where it spies on the user and steals information.
Because malware-infested apps go to great lengths to hide their activities, you aren't likely to notice what they're up to on your device. Their thefts, however, will show up on your credit card statement or mobile bill. So check your statements closely each month.
5. Steer Clear of the Drive-By Message or Link
A drive-by download happens when you view an infected website or email, or when you click on a text message with a name like "critical system update." Click the link and you're actually installing malware, which bypasses built-in security systems.
This type of attack has many variants, but mobile security software can help prevent drive-by downloads. If you're not sure about the legitimacy of an app on your device, contact your carrier or the device manufacturer before installing it.
6. Lock 'Em Up!
Remember: If someone gains access to your phone, it's easy for the thief to run up your bill with expensive international or 900-number calls, paid SMS messages or app store purchases. Secure your phone by turning on all auto-lock options that require a password after a few minutes of idle time, and use a strong PIN to protect the device. PINs such as "1234" and "1111" are easily guessed, as are birthdays and other easy-to-find numbers.
Biometrics, such as fingerprint scanners or face recognition through your phone's camera, provide an extra layer of security on some devices. Also, two-factor authentication (where a password and a text-messaged code are both required for entry) can provide added security.
Finally, remote wipe systems also add peace of mind. If your device is lost or stolen, you can remotely erase its data, ensuring your information isn't stolen.
7. Keep Your Devices Nearby
While hackers are a real threat, theft is still the most common computer crime because smartphones and tablets are easily sold on the black market. Always keep tabs on your mobile device, use strong security tactics and install a tracking app, such as Find My iPhone, to help you quickly recover your smartphone or tablet if it goes missing.