Staying Safe Online, Part 4: VPNs and Smartphones
VPN Usage and Tips
Using a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, can help protect your data and keep you safe when using public wi-fi. A VPN encrypts your network traffic, and deters casual snoopers from spying on your activity. Remember, just because a network is free does not mean it’s safe!
Here are some tips for getting the most out of your VPN:
- Compare your options: there are a lot of VPN services out there. Select a provider that allows you to protect multiple devices.
- Review your Terms of Service to ensure your web traffic, stored data, and personally identifiable information are protected. Do NOT use a VPN that shares or sells your data!
- Enable the “kill switch” option of your VPN service: whenever you are disconnected from a server, the internet is also disconnected as a safeguard.
- Once you have chosen a VPN provider, remain vigilant: be on the lookout for software upgrades and periodic changes in the Terms of Service.
- VPNs are not magic. They are a valuable layer in the security onion, but you still must use good internet safety habits while using a VPN. Practice your security mindset!
Smartphones and Safety
Nearly every phone on the market is a “smartphone”, capable of using apps, browsing the web, and doing the job of a small computer. It’s important to keep these devices secured in the same way that you would secure your computer.
- Use a strong alphanumeric password or biometric recognition to unlock your phone (fingerprint/face ID). Pattern locks can be strong but are easier to compromise.
- If possible, enable hard-disk encryption.
- Limit accessing sensitive information from the lock screen, including call logs, emails, and messages.
- Malicious emails and texts can infect your phone with malware. Don’t click links from unknown parties!
- Set up a SIM PIN lock.
- Use apps that allow you to locate, lock, and erase data on your phone remotely. Apple users will need Find My from Apple; Android users will require Google Find My Device.
- Install a malware monitoring app, such as Lookout or AVG Antivirus.
- Don’t jailbreak or root your phone.
- Always keep your operating system up to date with the latest security patches.
- Only install apps from the official Apple or Google Play store.
- Wipe data from your phone before discarding, donating, recycling, or selling it. Transfer the SIM card to a new phone or destroy it.
- If you’re not using Bluetooth, turn it off.
- If you’re not using wi-fi, turn it off.
- Don’t use public wi-fi without a VPN.
- Don’t allow apps to track your real-time location unless they have a legitimate reason (Maps, Find My Device, etc).