Who’d have thought 10 years ago, sitting behind that clunky desktop PC behemoth, that just one decade down the line we’d be carrying computers in our pockets?

The advent of the smartphone age means we’re no longer carrying cellphones (those things that we actually talked to our mums on), that for years raced to be the smallest and had batteries lasting a decade.

We now rather have palm-sized (and growing), powerful computers which just happen to, as a lesser function just below the calculator, be able to call someone. If your battery can last past 3pm, that is.

The convenience afforded by smartphones means that things we used to do on computers are no longer tethered to that clunky PC. For better, or worse, these devices have fundamentally changed our lives.

In using these devices as computers, we actually forget that is exactly what they are. Ask most people whether they have online security sorted on their phones, and they’ll most probably answer: “But it’s a phone.”

It boils down to the fact that when it comes to smartphones, most of us forget the basic online safety that we’ve learnt the hard way in the past two decades, leaving our handsets horribly vulnerable.

So what should you be thinking about to keep your personal data safe and your smartphone virus-free?

1. Antivirus software
Don’t feel alone if you haven’t downloaded anti-virus software. According to a global survey conducted by Norton anti-virus, two-thirds of smartphones don’t have it. Step one is downloading that anti-virus software.

2. Download safely
Whether for fun or for business, apps have taken the smartphone to a new level. Having said that, apps can leave your device very vulnerable. Your first warning is never to install any app not downloaded directly from your platform’s dedicated app store. Also remember though, anyone can get an app published; be very sure to only install what you need, from who you trust.

Jailbreaking is hugely tempting if you’re a bit of an app freak. Resist, though, there’s no going back.

3. Check app access
When an app appears in an app store from a major brand or well established app studio, it should be relatively safe; the operative word being relatively. Apps often need access to some device features to run, but read the small print and if they ask for too much access, stop the setup process immediately.

4. A click is sometimes more than just a click
In that same study by Norton, 31% of respondents said they’d received text messages from strangers that contained website links. On our computers we all know never to open emails from an unknown source, particularly if there’s an attachment contained. An SMS or any other form of mobile communication from an unknown source should be treated in the same way.

5. Unsecured Wi-Fi
Data costs are getting lower, but they’re still relatively pricey so the lure of a free wi-fi connection, regardless of place, is hard to resist.

Free Wi-Fi can however come at a heavy price. Private email accounts, banking transactions and pretty much all forms of ecommerce can be compromised, because your passwords and card numbers can be hijacked a lot more easily than you think.

On free Wi-Fi, the rule of thumb is to merely web-surf, steering clear of anything you don’t want getting out there.

6. Software updates
Your phone will tell you when a software update is available, and if it doesn’t, then find out where this alert might be. For many the first instinct is to ignore it, after all, my phone still works and I am happy with its features so why bother?

Consider however that recently, Android had to release an update to fix a “bug” which allowed malicious hackers to create a web link which instantly performed a factory reset on your phone.

In short, ignore updates at your peril!

7. Secure access
Your phone goes with you to the gym, the bar and the beach, so chances are at some stage it could be lost or stolen. If that happens, do you really want the thief looking at your private pictures or having complete access to your life via your social networks and banking details?

The first step here is to ensure that your phone has a security code to get into the device and to launch any services. If your phone offers the option, the second step is setting it to wipe all data after a certain number of incorrect code attempts. Drastic, but safer.

8. Automatic data backup
If step two above has just caused hyperventilation, chances are you don’t back up your phone’s data.

Most smartphones allow you to back up manually or automatically online with their cloud based platforms, but safer still is to also back up your phone on your own computer at least once a week depending on how pivotal the phone is to your life. That way, if you lose your phone or your data is wiped, the most you’ve lost is a couple of days.

9. Remote access
Following on from these cloud-based back-up solutions, many of those services also offer the ability to track and remotely control your phone using the onboard GPS.

Whilst this sounds a little scary and Big Brother-like, this is an invaluable feature used far too infrequently. Just this week, police tracked down a friend’s iPad and the culprits using this feature.

10. Common sense
With developments in mobile technology coming thick and fast, more doors open for hackers and thieves. There’s never going to be the ultimate answer to protecting your smartphone, and let’s face it, most bits of technology are only as good as the people driving them and us humans can be a little too trusting sometimes. The best advice I can give is use your head – more than you are right now.

Smart devices have the ability to change our lives; a little precaution will ensure it is always for the better.

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