Don’t Be Like Bezos: Phone Security 101

It’s been somewhat of a stormy few weeks for Amazon.

Its massive plan for a new headquarters in New York City got shut down, and its CEO became embroiled in a messy divorce scandal complete with steamy (or nauseating, depending on your point of view) leaked text messages and compromising photos.

Bezos is the richest man in the world, with an estimated net worth of $137 billion dollars. But no amount of money can protect you when it comes to sharing sensitive information over the phone.

Sexy Texts, Unsexy Leaks

The details are not entirely substantiated (to say the least), but it appears that the Amazon CEO’s racy texts were leaked by his mistress’ brother. According to the Daily Beast, Bezos has launched his own investigation into the matter. However, it’s still not entirely clear what caused the private messages to enter the public record (no one has been accused of a crime yet, and the texts don’t appear to have been hacked).

Needless to say, all of this could’ve been prevented with a few simple steps. Here are a few ways to protect your sensitive data from being leaked.

1. Secure Your Lock Screen

As annoying as it may sometimes be to have to enter a passcode or swipe a pattern everytime you want to use your phone, a secure lockscreen is absolutely essential when it comes to keeping your information secure.

If you choose to use a pattern instead of a passcode, make sure it’s something random enough to confound even the most geometrically-inclined hacker. A simple square or a star is not going to cut it.

If you choose to protect your lockscreen with a passcode or password, go for something complex and known only to you. No birthdates. No kid’s names. Hackers know the kinds of bad passwords everyday people like to use, so you’ll need to get a little creative.

You should think of stop thinking of passwords as words and start thinking of them as phrases; use combinations of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols.

Also, be sure to avoid using the same pattern/code more than once, and change/update your lockscreen frequently.

2. Download Mobile Malware Protection

Malware is short for “malicious software,” and is used to describe things that can “infect” your phone: viruses, worms, spyware, adware etc.

Downloading good Anti-malware protection software is an essential tool for protecting your data security online. Even the savviest iPhone user  isn’t immune to clicking on a spam link or accidentally downloading malware.

3. Use Two-Step Authentication

Using an Android? Enable Google’s 2-Step Verification to ensure that you retain sole access to your Gmail, Google Drive and Play Store accounts, even if you lose your password. It’s easy to set-up and will immediately add a much-needed second layer of security to your phone.

4. Cover Your Screen

Remember how your mom or dad used to plead with you to cover your mouth when you sneezed? Well, I’m here to plead with you to cover your screen when you text!

It’s not hard to let your guard down when you’re on your phone at the coffee shop or on the train. While 99% of your neighbors are likely not in the least interested in what you’re doing, a nosey one can easily side-eye your passcode, email password and private photos when you aren’t looking. Always be aware of what others can see.

5. Check Your Digital Footprint

Given that we spend on average 24 hours a week online, it’s not a surprise that we tend to leave some things behind: dormant social media profiles, forum comments, even a photo or two (thousand). The data we leave behind is known as a “digital footprint.”

Many of us forget all the things we do online. Do you remember all the posts you made or photos you uploaded 10 years ago? The internet probably does. And if there’s personal information in there, all the better for a hacker.

While a simple Google search may job your memory, we recommend using a dedicated people search engine, which allows you to search yourself by name, home address, phone number or email address. A reverse email search is particularly useful, as it will bring up any past social media profiles you may have created and show what’s public. Then you can take the next step by accessing those social media accounts and deleting whatever information may be of use to a criminal.

6. Beware of Phone Scammers

There’s an endless variety of online scams out there, from phishing texts (“smishes”: messages that redirect you to a fraudulent website in hopes of getting you to enter your data),  to “catfish” romance scams on dating sites. Though their methods may vary, online fraudsters are essentially all confidence tricksters: they want to secure your trust and have you let your guard down. Don’t let them. Avoid opening emails, texts, security alerts etc. from people you don’t know. Don’t share personal information before ensuring you know the person asking for it. Needless to say, never text or send photos to someone you haven’t met in person first.

If you want to know who’s emailing or calling you, do a background search to verify their identity. If you don’t recognize them, back away.

7. Don’t Send Racy Images in the First Place

Okay, so this one may seem a little glib, but c’mon…is it really worth the risk?