Can you trust the apps on your phone? When it comes to data privacy, apps are notoriously. Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell at face value , and no protection is foolproof in today’s world of ever-evolving technology. An app that behaves well today could turn into a bad actor tomorrow if the company behind the app is sold, changes its direction or .
And there’s always the chance that the company offering you mobile service ends up being the victim of a data breach. That’s what happened to T-Mobile in August, leaking the names, driver’s license information and Social Security numbers of up to— not all of them current customers. T-Mobile has suffered at least three other breaches since 2015, making this the latest in a series of events.
While there isn’t much customers can do to protect their data from a carrier breach, it’s still important to take steps toward securing your own data, especially when it comes to the apps you use. There are ways tosaved about you, along with some new and . And Apple also launched a “ ” in , which allows you to see what kind of data an app collects .
But there’s more you can do to protect your data privacy and improve your smartphone security. We reached out to data privacy experts for their top tips to protect your personal data when using apps. Here are their seven suggestions.
1. Use a password manager
The strongest passwords are random strings of characters. A series of letters, numbers and symbols in no particular order is less likely to be found in the dictionary and harder for a computer to crack with brute force. The downside is that these complex passwords are much harder to remember.
This is where acomes in handy. Password managers keep all your passwords in one encrypted and password-protected app. They also generate and remember strong passwords. While apps like Google Chrome and Samsung’s proprietary phone app will offer to save passwords for you, .
It’s also best to avoid using the same password for multiple accounts. If one account is compromised in a data breach, all the accounts are compromised. With a password manager, each one of your accounts can have a different, complex and hard-to-crack password. Some will even generate passwords for you.
We recommend one called, but there are to choose from.
2. Use a VPN on public Wi-Fi
If you’re going to get on ainstead of using your mobile data, experts suggest using a . A virtual private network can keep your data from being snooped on by other people lurking on the same public network. They can also mask your data transmissions, avoid filtering and censorship on the internet and allow you to access a wider variety of content around the world.
For our purposes, it can shield you from having to get on a free public network that others can use to gain access to your phone. When looking for a provider, it’s important to research the company to find out if it’s well-known and trustworthy. The Apple App Store and the Google Play Store have dozens of , but some have questionable practices, so take care.
Regardless of how frequently you plan to use a VPN, it’s important to read through the service agreement so you know what data might be collected and where it will be stored. See.
3. Be mindful of app permissions
One tip that almost all of the experts mentioned was double checking which permissions the app asks for. You should also ask yourself whether it makes sense for an app to ask for certain permissions. An app asking for access to data that isn’t relevant to its function is a.
“[If] you’re downloading a simple app for a pocket calculator for instance and the app is requesting access to your contact list and location,” said Stephen Hart, CEO of Cardswitcher. “Why would a calculator need to see your contact list and location? Requests like that should ring some alarm bells.”
In addition to paying attention to permissions that you grant to an app, it’s also important to monitor how your phone behaves after you download it. Shlomie Liberow, a technical program manager and security guru at HackerOne, said that drastic changes in your device’s battery life are another red flag, since malicious apps can constantly run in the background.
“If after installing an app, you notice your battery life decreasing faster than usual, that may be a tell-tale sign that the app is up to no good and is likely operating in the background,” Liberow said.
Here’s how you can.
4. Research the app or company
While you can’t tell at face value if an app has sinister motives, a quick Google search can supply more information. The experts suggested searching the name of the app and the phrase “data scandal” or “scam.” Hart said the results should tell you if the company has experienced any recent privacy or data leaks.
“This search should also tell you if data breaches are a common occurrence at that company and, if they have experienced any, how they have responded to them,” Hart said. “If the company has been affected several times and done nothing to address the problem, steer clear of the app — it suggests that they aren’t taking the issue seriously.”
Joe Baker, an IT Systems Administrator at Anderson Technologies, said it’s wise to avoid an app if it’s the only one a developer has produced or if the developer was responsible for any other shady apps.
5. Limit social media exposure
put the popular social network in hot water. But even people who’ve after the fallout (or never created a profile in the first place) might still be at risk for . If you appear on a friend or family member’s account, you’re . After those accounts are observed, companies can construct a “shadow profile” that details a person’s likes, dislikes, political leanings, religious beliefs and more.
It’s wise to limit the amount of information you share on social media, regardless of what the site asks for on your profile. The more information you share, the more data that’s. Only fill out the absolute minimum amount of information necessary. The more information is at risk in the event of a data breach.
“Smartphone apps are generally more ‘thorough’ when it comes to targeted advertising. There’s even concern among some about those programs accessing your phone’s microphone (presumably for more targeted advertising),” Bobby Kittleberger, head of Legal Software Help, told CNET.
6. Keep software up to date
Making time to update your smartphone’s operating system is critical to keeping your data safe, according to Walsh. The updates let you stay a step ahead of hackers and the latest exploits they’re spreading across the internet. Hart suggested adjusting your phone’s settings so it’ll update automatically.
“Think of software updates like vaccinations for your smartphone,” Hart said. “The methods that criminals use to hack into your phone and steal your data are constantly evolving, so the ways that we protect our smartphones need to evolve too.”
7. Only download apps from Google and Apple’s stores
Not all the apps in the App Store or the Google Play store are 100% trustworthy, but experts still say you should only download from the official stores, rather than side-load an app.
Downloading an app from unofficial or insecure sites increases the risk of ransomware, malware, spyware and trojan viruses infecting your device, according to Walsh. He says in the worst case scenario, the hacker can take full control of your device.
In addition to avoiding apps that are the only one a developer as produced, Baker encourages users to see how long an app has been available and take a look at the reviews before downloading.
“A natural assortment of reviews should include varied rankings,” he said. “Some fraudulent apps will also display fraudulent reviews.”
You should question irregular patterns of speech, high ratings with no description or explanation. Baker also said to check if an app has been written about on a third-party site.
“Long-form reviews from peers are going to be the best and most reliable source of information here,” Baker said.
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