With the advent of mobile apps for financial transactions and services, your financial data is more vulnerable than ever. What if the worst happens and your smartphone is lost or stolen? How do you keep your personal and financial information from being accessed and used to drain your bank account, or worse?
- Lock Screen – Your first line of defense is the lock-screen function that locks the screen after a period of inactivity. Many people do not even bother with lock screen because of the hassle of constantly unlocking the phone – but if access is easy for you, it is also easy for thieves.
Older systems still use a simple 4-digit pin code to unlock the screen, although advanced systems are available. Apple’s new Touch ID system that uses fingerprint identification is one of the first of this new breed.
Even the Touch ID has been hacked already – but with some difficulty and with methods that are not useful to the average thief. However, you want to make the process as difficult as possible with whatever system you use. If all you have is a 4-digit pin code, use it.
- Strong Passwords– Apply a password to anything that accepts it – and not just a simple password such as the unimaginative “password” or “1234”. Use as complex of a password as the phone or app will allow.
Password maintenance may stop someone from finding your phone and stealing your information based on opportunity, but to keep your information safe from professional thieves, you need a higher level of protection.
- Encryption – Enabling encryption is always a good idea, but realize what it is you are encrypting. For example, the older iOS systems contained default hardware encryption – meaning your data is not encrypted, but the keys to access it are encrypted. Hackers can get around that level of encryption.
Data encryption helps, but it may not work with all mobile apps or cloud storage – it depends on how the app was created. This is especially true for Android apps, which are not as centrally controlled as Apple apps. Check the details of any financial apps you use to determine which encryption methods are most effective, and which ones are incompatible.
- Remote Wipe – You can set your phone up to remotely erase the device from a web browser, whether it is an Apple iOS or an Android-based system. This effectively restores the default settings on the phone.
Remote erase is defaulted to the off position. You will need to activate it to allow a future remote wipe. Active it right away, because you cannot alter default settings once the device is lost or stolen.
Caution: Once you have initiated a remote wipe from your browser, it is irreversible and your data is not retrievable from that device. Only use this when you are sure your smartphone is irretrievable.
- Third-Party Security Software – There are several fine third-party vendors of security software or mobile apps that can provide device alarms that can be activated online as well as enhanced remote locking and wiping capabilities (not to mention malware protection). Check the reviews online to see which version is the best for you. Some will even snap photos to try to take a picture of the criminal who has your phone!
- Wireless Proximity Alarm Systems – These connect with your device through Bluetooth and play a loud alarm tone when you are more than 60’ away from the device.
The ultimate remedy may be on the way in the form of “kill switches” that enable you to disable the phone remotely by default – a simpler, standard remote wipe function.
Major U.S. carriers and many equipment manufacturers have signed on to make kill switches standard on all smartphones made after July 2015, although reservations have been expressed about kill switches potentially being hacked, thus allowing phones to be remotely “hijacked” and held for ransom.
Legislatures are getting into the act as well. California recently passed a bill requiring mandatory kill switches in all smartphones sold in the state, and the US Senate is looking at similar options.
In the end, your best bet to protect your mobile financial information is to understand the security options available for your phone and use them, supplement them with third-party software if you need to – and most importantly, keep track of your phone.