Over the past decade the humble mobile phone has gone from a handy communications device to a fully fledged computer that we rely upon to do everything from manage day to day organisation to online banking to entertainment, while tablets have become a popular replacement for laptops.
Our portable devices now hold an enormous amount of personal information, and that can be particularly concerning for parents who are worried about what their kids are doing online and what kind of information they’re revealing about themselves.
A few minutes can save hours of worry
If you’re concerned about your children accessing unsuitable content or don’t want them to have full run of a device there are parental control features that can be used to restrict how a tablet or smartphone is used.
On Android, take advantage of the user profiles function (which allows multiple users to have their own apps and personalisation) to configure a restricted profile which will only have access to the apps you select, and will not allow other apps to be installed. This does require at least Android 4.3 however, so on older devices you’ll need to look at a third party tool such as AppLock, which provides similar app-restricting functionality.
You can also prevent the Android App Store from downloading certain types of software. Use the Google Play settings to set up Content Filtering and choose from low, medium or high.
For iPhone and iPad, locate the Restrictions feature under General Settings. It will allow you, as the owner of the device, to lock out access to specific apps, block explicit content and prevent changes to certain settings (including location tracking).
Anti-virus and anti-theft apps
For additional security there are a wide variety of third party anti-virus and anti-theft apps that are especially useful for privacy protection, an important consideration when so much personal data can be stored on mobile phones and tablets.
Whilst it may seem a little unnecessary to have anti-virus on a phone, it’s a good idea for Android devices, which by their open nature are far more susceptible to malicious software that can steal both money and data.
The Apple iPhone is less likely to run into problems with viruses, though if the handset has been ‘jailbroken’ to allow the installation of software outside the Apple App Store it is at a higher risk of catching something.
Many anti-virus apps provide a full suite of security tools, including anti-theft features. In addition to basic device tracking and remote locking/wiping these provide more advanced functionality like taking photos of the current user, providing details of texts and phone calls and even geographical alerts which can lock down a phone or send a location update if the device leaves a specified area.
Two-factor authentication – what and why
There’s one free and very secure feature that everyone should be using to better protect themselves – two-factor authentication (2FA).
This is a security method where logging in to a service requires not just a password but an additional security token. This is very common to online banking, which often uses a code generating card reader to provide the secondary authentication.
With 2FA enabled, an unauthorised user cannot access online accounts without both the password and secondary token. It can protect your privacy against thieves and stop children and young adults accessing personal information without your knowledge.
For Android you can enable 2FA via Google Account settings, protecting your details with a code that’s sent via text or phone call. You can also use the free Google Authenticator app as a 2FA token for other apps and services.
For the iPhone and iPad, go to the security settings in your Apple ID. Once setup, it will protect your Apple ID and associated features such as iCloud, and prevent unauthorised purchases on iTunes and the App Store.
Selling your child’s tablet or smartphone?
Selling an old table or smartphone can net some cash toward an upgrade but it’s vital that you ensure the storage is properly wiped before passing it on, otherwise the new owner could very easily recover data you thought was deleted.
Often deleting a file does not actually remove it, leaving fragments or complete files intact and open to recovery using freely available software.
First of all, never sell a device with a SIM card; if it’s no longer required take it out and cut it up. You should also remove all memory cards, but if you must sell them along with it use a secure file erasing tool (there are numerous free applications for Windows and Mac OS) to make data recovery much harder.
For the internal device storage, the method differs depending on what you’re selling. iPhone and iPad users can simply make use of the Erase command within the Reset options of their device, but Android is not quite as reliable. Instead you should first encrypt the device (an option found within the Settings/Security menu) then use the factory reset. This way, even if any data was left on the memory, it will remain scrambled by the encryption.
Basic security steps we should all be doing
- Screen lock
The simplest security option on any mobile device is the humble screen lock. Modern devices tend to offer a choice: you can opt for the classic number code or go for patterns and passwords alongside more high tech solutions such as facial recognition (Android) and fingerprint ID (more recent Apple iPhone models). A screen lock isn’t infallible but it does keep devices safe from casual access.
- Device tracking
Apple and Android hardware includes integrated (and free) remote tracking and theft protection. Once enabled you can call up the location via a web browser – which is useful if you need to check your kids are actually where they say they are! – but you’re more likely to use it to remotely lock and wipe everything on their mobile phone or tablet if it has been stolen.
- In-app payment PIN
It’s very common for mobile apps to offer additional paid content, but this has led to huge bills for some parents whose children were able to purchase using stored credit card details without any additional checks. Whilst you can obviously avoid such a situation by never storing this information, it is convenient to have it stored. Instead, protect in-app payments with a PIN so your kids will have to come to you whenever they want to make a purchase.