Technology is taking over every aspect of our daily lives, and as it does so we become exposed to the associated dangers. One of the biggest threats is the device we carry with us 24/7 - our smartphone.
I was recently invited to discuss the issue on ITV's Good Morning Britain to demonstrate just how much information we can unwittingly share with complete strangers just by switching on our phones. When downloading an app, for instance, do you really read all of the lengthy terms and conditions? I know I don't. But by agreeing to them, we could be giving an application access to our contacts, our messages, our photographs or any other data stored on our phone.
Now imagine that it's a malicious app, deliberately designed to do you harm. Someone could potentially activate the camera on your smart device, gaining a window into your private life, without you even knowing. This is why we really do need to increase our awareness of the actions we take with our smart devices, to make sure that we have the best chance of proactively protecting against such threats.
There's no question that smartphones and other connected devices do make our lives easier, but we need to monitor what we are sharing and who we're allowing to access our personal information. Take Location Services for example. The Location Services history on your device shows exactly where you have been; addresses, times, dates and how often you have visited that location. The unfortunate reality is, if you can see this, so can any apps on your device with access to Location Services. So we appear to a battle on our hands - between convenience and safety.
You will be pleased to hear that there is a way to balance convenience and safety. Here are five top tips on how to stay safe and protect yourself from danger:
1. Location Services do help us to find our way around, but some apps also request access to location services - sometimes unnecessary and potentially compromising. To protect against such access - to Location Services or any other functions on the device - check the list of requested permissions. Android presents you with a list of such permissions when you install an app; if you're unhappy with the level of access requested, don't install the app. iOS apps ask for access to certain services as and when they require it and you can choose to say no without deleting the app. It is also possible to change app permissions in the device settings. You might also want to take this a step further and turn off Location Services unless you're specifically using it at the time.
2. Switch off Bluetooth when in unfamiliar environments, otherwise you are leaving your gadgets discoverable and vulnerable to those seeking to exploit the open connection and possibly hack your device. As with Location Services, if you're not using it, consider switching it off.
3. Always use a strong password or PIN to protect your mobile device. Make sure your password is difficult to guess and, if your device allows it, use a mixture of numbers, letters and special characters. Avoid memorable or easy-to-guess dates and names, and remember that the longer your password is, the harder it will be to crack. Finally, ensure you use a unique password for each of your gadgets, bank accounts and social media accounts. To avoid having to remember yet another password, consider using your fingerprint to access your device, if this is supported.
4. Make sure all your mobile gadgets are installed with up-to-date security protection from a reputable company. Prevention is most definitely better than cure.
5. Avoid shopping, banking or other confidential transactions using public Wi-Fi hotspots. These are common places for cybercriminals to steal your information. You can go online in public places by using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). These create a personal, secure tunnel for each user and ensure that online activities stay private. All you need to do is download, then activate, the software on your device. Otherwise, stick to trusted Wi-Fi for confidential transactions.