15 mobile security tricks and tips for summer vacation

Personal computers have been cyber criminals' target for years, and malware researchers are on their mission to raise users' awareness of the possible dangers on the Internet, where hundreds and millions threats are circulating and new ones are launched every day. Mobile devices have also been included on the target lists of the black hat hackers, and the latest mobile attacks show that mobile devices are an easy target for cyber criminals, especially when their victims are relaxed and on the go. Mobile devices now keep great amounts of our personal information, because we browse social media websites, make online purchases, check bank accounts, and send files and other personal information using mobile phones. Personally identifiable information, or any other data that may be employed by criminals, can be easily accessed by cyber schemers during summer vacation when we pay little or no attention to the way we use our devices. Hopefully, our mobile device security tips will come in handy before you set out for your summer vacation or any escape from home where you are going to use the Internet on your Android, Windows Phone, or iPhone.

1. Keep the operating system up-to-day

Hackers build malicious codes to exploit various vulnerabilities on operating systems and software programs in order to get their access to a victim's personal data. A vulnerability in the operating system or a mobile application can work as a backdoor to your mobile device. By keeping your OS and apps outdated, you invite some bad guys to your device and kindly offer them your pictures, login details, and other valuable information.

2. Download mobile apps from reputable sources

Before downloading a new picture editing app for your vacation photos on the beach, make sure that the source of the app is reliable. Apple Store and Google Play put in a great deal of effort to provide their clients with reliable and safe to use mobile applications. It is always worth paying attention not only to the start rating of the application, but to the real comments too. Schemers can easily rig up fake star ratings for their counterfeit programs promoted on questionable websites, so you should not trust those four or five stars. Be sure that you install a program that will not disappoint you.

3. Use reliable anti-malware programs

Ransomware and data stealing malware are the two major threats of this decade, and these threats are getting their way to mobile device users. A ransomware infection encrypts data and demands a ransom fee, which may vary from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. A data stealing Trojan is an infection that records data input, including text messages, usernames, and passwords, so that the data collected can be used to withdraw users' money from their bank accounts. Getting the mobile device infected or even locked during your trip abroad could cause a lot of inconvenience, so it is much better to get properly equipped while still at home.

4. Back up your data

Backing up your data is crucial at all times, and this applies to the PC's operating system and mobile devices. After backing up your mobile data, you can delete some unnecessary files to free more space for your new pictures. One of the ways to back up your data is to use your Google account, which enables you to fill up the storage of 15GB for free. Extra space is available at a charge.

5. Change passwords before leaving

If you are planning, and you are certainly planning, to use some online accounts while on vacation, it is worth changing their passwords before leaving and then changing them back after coming home. This is crucial so that you do not get hacked when logging into your accounts when on a public Wi-Fi connection, especially if it is not protected.

6. Turn of Bluetooth and other automatic features

In order to prevent an unwanted exposure of your personal information to third parties when using public Wi-Fi, it is advisable to turn off all features that would automatically connect the device to a Wi-Fi network. You need to use only secure networks so that nobody can interfere between your device and the service or website you connect to.

7. Lock the screen or set a strong password

When using the mobile in a public place, you may accidentally leave your phone unattended or even forget it. Setting a strong passcode, PIN, or pattern can help you protect your identity in case of a theft.

8. Install a phone tracking application

Thanks to mobile phone manufacturers and mobile app creators, your phone can be tracked if it has been configured properly. Android, Windows Phone, and iPhone enable users to set up phone tracking after signing into either Google, Windows or Apple accounts respectively. Third-party software for tracking is also available on the market.

9. Browse only secured websites

In order to bypass unreliable websites while on the go, you should make sure that you access a website the URL of which starts with HTTPS. The "S" stands for Secure, which means that the communication between your browser and the website is encrypted. A typical example is online banking and shopping order forms. If you think that you will need to access your private accounts when connected to public Wi-fi, do not forget to change their login details before leaving.

10. Access only protected networks

Using Wi-fi in public places, such as coffee shops, hotels, restaurants, airports to name a few, is part of our spare time, especially when on vacation. However, reading your email or accessing your bank account when logged onto an unsecure network may end up in damaging results. When you connect to the Internet on an unprotected network, someone in between you and the service or website can read the information transmitted, which is usually referred to as a Man in the Middle (MitM) attack. Moreover, when the service provider offers you an an encrypted network, that means that the data sent from you to the wireless router is not accessible to any third party. This should be done then setting up the network, but you are barely able to find out whether it has been done. To minimize the risk of losing personal information, browse only those websites that does not require sensitive information from your online accounts.

11. Use two-factor authorization (2FA)

Two-factor authorization (2FA), which may also be referred to as 2-step verification, is a an addition to your conventional log-in procedure. It is very likely that you use 2FA without realizing it since 2FA requires extra authentication alongside your password when logining in. More specifically, two-factor authorization makes you the only person available to access your device even if someone knows your password. Suppose you have an account on your mobile phone and want to sign into the account for the first time on a newly purchased device. To do successfully log into the new device, you will have to enter the verification code displayed on the phone's screen. There are several optional 2FA types, which include an personal identification number (PIN), an ATM card or phone, and fingerprint or voice print. Using the ZIP code of your credit card is also an instance of 2FA in use.

12. Use VPNs on public Wi-Fi

A virtual private network (VPN) is a network which enables privacy and anonymity when a private network is created using a public Internet connection. By using VPNs on public Wi-fi you cannot make your online connections completely anonymous, but you increase your privacy. Think about a VPN as a tunnel which connects your device to a VPN server located in any country. Your traffic goes back and forth through the server connected, which means that you browse the Internet from the geographical location, not the physical location of the device. Importantly, this type of Internet browsing is usually charged since a VPN has a provider. There are, of course, free services, but they may be collecting certain personal information or pushing advertisement. Moreover, some VPN providers may offer a limited amount of bandwith usage, so finding a provider without data limits should be your priority.

13. Avoid odd-looking hotspots

When hanging out in a public place where Wi-Fi is available, you should not connect to the network having the strongest connection or a innocuous name. Cyber criminals can configure a laptop to function as a soft access point. After connected to such network, every piece of information, including passwords and access codes, is collected by the schemer.

14. Secure your personal hotspot

Your cell phone can be used as a wireless router to provide Internet access to other devices. Android and iOS devices have a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot feature, so it is enough to configure the device. The wireless network is usually encrypted with strong WPA2 security, which means that unauthorized users cannot connect to the device, but it is highly advisable to set a up a strong password for extra security so that nobody gets compromised. The hotspot settings are typically in located in the area named either Connections or Networks.

15. Do not root or jailbreak your phone

Rooting and jailbraking are two terms referring to technically different procedures on two different mobile phone platforms. Rooting and jaillbreaking allow you to have unrestricted access to the device's entire file system. Rooting refers to Android devices, whereas jaillbreaking refers to Apple iOS. These procedures are usually carried in order to get the chance to install programs that are blocked by Google Play or App Store. The downside of rooting/jaillbreaking your device is that you lose your cell phone's warranty, which means that the manufacturer will not agree to fix it in case of some damage. More important, after you root or jaillbreak your phone, it becomes vulnerable to unreliable applications.

If you have some other security tips, we encourage you to share them with interested readers below in the comment box.