How can I protect my phone from hackers and thieves?

No one is immune to hackers these days. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to prevent hackers from accessing your phone and all the data that’s stored. Protect your smartphone and all data on it from digital thieves, spies, and criminals with the tips in this carefully put-together post. 

You can protect your phone from hackers by following these 15 tips:

  1. Keep the software up to date
  2. Use fingerprint or password access
  3. Keep your cellphone locked when not in use
  4. Only install apps from the iOS or Android store
  5. Be conscious about which permissions an app needs
  6. Track and lock your phone from a distance
  7. Make backups from all your data
  8. Be careful with auto-login
  9. Use two-factor authentication
  10. Turn of notifications on locked screens
  11. Keep your essential apps and documents in a secure folder
  12. Turn of AirDrop and Bluetooth in public areas
  13. Use a VPN when on a public wifi
  14. Don’t download random files or apps
  15. Review what data is accessible through your phone
  16. Install security software on your cellphone

Let’s look at every individual tip and see what you can do to make your smartphone secure. 

Beware, things change, hackers become more innovative, and caution is always advised. Make sure you back up all your smartphone data, including your images, so that you won’t lose all your precious memories and work. Be extra careful with bank and credit card apps. 

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Photo by NeONBRAND

1 Keep the software of your smartphone up to date

The first step to protecting your phone from hackers is updating all the software. To make this step easy, turn on auto-updates. 

You can update your phone’s software by: 

  1. Going to settings
  2. Selecting ‘system and updates’ 
  3. Tapping ‘software updates
  4. And installing now. 
  5. There’s also an option to toggle the ‘check automatically’ box to on. Consequently, your phone will automatically scan for and download updates.

These steps can differ for the type of phone you have or the operating system you use. 

2 Use fingerprint or passcode access

Make sure you use some password-protected access to your phone. When thieves have physical access to your cell phone, it is way too easy to access your personal information. In addition, your email, WhatsApp, and Google Drive may be full of personal information. 

Both Android and iOS will have the option to use a 5 or 6-digit passcode, facial recognition, or fingerprint access. Although neither of these options is foolproof, they make it much harder for a thief to gain access. 

Beware of smart-lock features! Please read all about it in paragraph 8. 

3 Keep your cellphone locked when not in use

Make sure your phone is locked when it is not in use. You can do so actively by using the designated button on your phone or selecting a short ‘sleep’ time, as displayed in the image below. 

Adjust Screen Sleep Time by Smartphone Photography

You can change the ‘sleep’ time by going to settings, display, and sleep (or something similar). My phone gives several options, like 15 seconds, 30 seconds, up to 10 minutes, or even never. Please do not use ‘never’ or several minutes!

4 Only install apps from the iOS or Android store

Be careful of what you install on your smartphone. It is very easy and fast to grant all kinds of permissions, like using your camera and accessing your files and microphone, but it can be harmful. Therefore, you must only use safe and up-to-date apps from Android or iOS stores. 

If you are unsure whether an app is legit, try looking for more information before downloading it. People will inform the internet if they have an unfortunate event with a particular app. Besides, if an app does not have a website or trustworthy email address, it is safe to say that you would be better off just leaving this app. 

5 Be conscious about which permissions an app needs

Some applications will ask for permanent access to your files, camera, microphone, and more. Before granting access, please consider if this app needs access to function correctly. You can deny access, no problem. And if access violates your privacy in a way that is not acceptable, please email the app store you downloaded it from. 

If you accidentally grant access to your phone, you can turn it off by going to settings – applications – app – permissions. See the image below for an example. 

Turn of permissions from different apps on your phone

For example, camera applications will ask access to your microphone to trigger the shutter with your voice. It could be handy at some point but is not necessary. You are better off using a cheap and lightweight remote shutter. It does seem a little weird when you are talking to your phone while taking many images 😉

6 Track and lock your phone from a distance

You can protect your smartphone and all the data on it from a distance:

  1. Use find my device for Apple and Android and remotely lock or erase your phone;
  2. Or automatically erase your iPhone after a certain number (10 or so) of incorrect attempts to enter the passcode or use the fingerprint scanner. Search for auto factory reset, erase data or something similar in your phone’s security settings.

For iOS, the steps are as follows:

  • Go to Settings
  • Select the Touch ID & Passcode option
  • Enter your passcode
  • Scroll to the bottom and tap Erase Data.
  • Tap the Enable button to confirm.

Make sure you search the house (or wherever) for your smartphone before you erase everything! It would be unfortunate if your phone just fell behind the couch. 

Make a backup from your smartphone, including images by Rawpixel

7 Make backups of all your data

If you find yourself in the position to delete all your data, including all your photographs, from a distance, it would be convenient if you had a backup. 

  1. Automatically backup your images and videos to the Google Photos library;
  2. Backup files and folders with Google Drive;
  3. Or use iCloud if you have an Apple phone;
  4. Android’s native cloud backup solution can store settings, apps, SMS messages, and even your call history;
  5. Or choose a cloud service like Microsoft’s OneDrive or Amazon Photos;
  6. You can automatically backup your data to your computer using the Syncthing application for Android

8 Be careful with auto-login

Be extra careful with using smart-lock features! These settings will automatically unlock your cellphone at home or other added locations. You might be in trouble even near your smartwatch (a trusted device). The same issues can occur while using ‘on-body detection.’ Your device stays on while it is on you. You are better off not using these features

9 Use two-factor authentication

Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on all services that offer this kind of service. Your phone will have an extra layer of protection for sensitive apps like your bank or credit card company. 

On Android phones, it is possible to add similar protection by using a secure folder. You can put files and apps in this folder and protect them with another passcode. Before you can access the application of your choice, you have to unlock your phone and then unlock the folder. Make sure to use another passcode for both access points! 

10 Turn off notifications on locked screens

Make sure you don’t show the content of your emails, WhatsApp messages, or any other app on your locked screen. You can turn notifications off entirely or only show you have a new message without giving up any additional information.

Go to settings – notifications – lock screen notifications (or similar) to turn them off or choose ‘show, but hide contents.’ 

Photo by Dan Nelson

11 Keep your essential apps and documents in a secure folder

Another way to keep crucial apps and documents safe is to use a secure folder app. Some smartphones come with a native secure folder app, as my cellphone does. And others need to download a secure app from the Android or iOS store. Ensure this app is well-known, safe to use, and has regular updates.  

Safe Folder on Android devices is available from Android 8.0 and up. You must set a passcode to enter the folder to store important documents and images. Someone will need your passcode, fingerprint or face detection, and another passcode before they can access these files. Unfortunately, it is not possible to move installed apps to this folder

Bluetooth Smartphone
Turn Bluetooth Off by Smartphone Photography

12 Turn off AirDrop and Bluetooth in public areas

To ensure that a hacker does not try to access your phone via Bluetooth or Apple AirDrop, turn it off in public locations. Several university studies in the US and Germany show that both Bluetooth and AirDrop are not waterproof. So I recommend better be safe than sorry and don’t use these techniques in public unless you have to.

Express VPN for Android by Google Play

13 Use a VPN when on a public wifi

Using public Wi-Fi on a reputable Virtual Public Network or VPN is safe. You will be less vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks like phishing and identity theft when using public wifi with a VPN. This is because these tools will reroute your traffic through a private encrypted channel. 

So is it hazardous to use public wifi without a VPN? Well, you could use it for a couple of minutes to check your social media accounts or to read the news online, but login into your email, or WhatsApp, using apps from your bank, or making online purchases is not something that I can recommend! So if you need or want to use public wifi a lot, consider using a reliable VPN connection, like ExpressVPNNordVPN, or IPVanish, for a couple of bucks per month.

Another option is to use your phone’s 4G or 5G internet connection. Suppose you have doubts about the public wifi you want to use. Please don’t use it at all.  

14 Don’t download random files or apps

Keep your phone secure and do not download random files from your email or install apps not improved by Android or Apple. Make sure you know the senders of files and check whether or not an email is legit.

15 Review what data is accessible through your phone

Make sure you check all the data on your phone once in a while. Do you use safe passwords or a pass vault to secure all your data? If anyone hacks or steals your phone, what would they be able to do with the obtained information? Be vigilant about how you use your phone. Don’t give away passwords to your bank account or credit card.

Do you have to save bank statements, your social security number, and your address on your phone? It would be straightforward to clean out your bank account if thieves could access your apps and get your personal information. 

AVG Cleaner for Mobile
AVG Mobile Security App by Smartphone Photography

16 Install security software on your cellphone

Security software like anti-virus and anti-malware applications are also available for smartphones. However, it would be best to use them to protect your smartphone and its data from hackers. When you surf online, use your email, or download a dodgy app, different types of malware can be installed on your device. Before you know it, you could have a nasty virus, trojan horse, or worm on your favorite device.

Security software will also warn you of malicious sites and apps. It will also notify you whenever something wrong downloads to your device. For example, my phone has a built-in virus scanner that runs automatically. 

Pro tip! You can also download an app from AVG called Mobile Security from the Android Store or iOS Store. It is possible to use the free version or pay 12 dollars for the first year for an upgrade and use all options like App Lock and Camera Trap to catch the one that uses or steals your phone. The app will work with all Android devices 6.0 or higher. It also allows you to use a secure VPN, lock sensitive apps, test the speed, get rid of junk, scan wifi networks, and perform deep scans.

Final thoughts on how to keep your cellphone safe from hackers and thieves

I hope these tips will keep your phone and all your data safe in this age of cybercrime. Please be thoughtful about the apps you use and the information you share. It might not look too dangerous, but how many people have suffered from cyber-attacks and identity thefts? Please do not become one of them! Stay safe.

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