No matter what operating system your phone is using, there are plenty of settings and small perks that may affect your privacy and anonymity.
iOS – always update
The most important point to note about Apple’s iOS is that it comes in only one flavor, which runs identically with the same version number on all iPhones and iPads. The current iOS version (iOS 9) is supported for iPhones as old as iPhone 4S, iPad 2, the first iPad mini, and the iPod Touch 5G.
As long as you update to the latest version of iOS, all these devices can be run securely. Running older versions of iOS is under no circumstances recommended, as publicly known security bugs and errors endanger the owner. Unfortunately, this means devices older than the one currently supported become useless.
Check what version of iOS you are running in your settings under “General -> About” and compare it with the latest version number available.
Android – but which one?
Android is far more complicated than iOS, as each device manufacturer often makes small changes to the operating system. This can have great but unknown security implications and introduce new bugs or even introduce spyware.
Currently two versions of Android are actively maintained, Version 5.x (Lollipop) and 6.0.1 (Marshmallow). All previous versions of Android are no longer maintained and therefore do not receive any security updates. You can check what version of Android you are running in your settings, and compare it with the latest version number.
In addition to the version of Android that comes shipped with your device, there are many alternative ‘flavors’ that you can install yourself on your phone with a bit of technical skill. The most widely used open-source flavor of Android is called CyanogenMod.
CyanogenMod provides plenty of installation guides that seem confusing at first, but if followed thoroughly can make it easier for you to run a secure and open-source version of Android on your phone.
Use permissions consciously
In iOS, and starting with version 6 in Android, you have the opportunity to selectively give each app permissions after you install it. That means that you can deny an app access to your GPS, microphone, or camera. Make use of this!
Always ask yourself whether an app really needs these permissions right now, and consider taking permissions away even after you’ve granted them.
For example, a chat application might ask you for access to your GPS and camera, but unless you use the app’s location feature or want to take pictures or videos directly from the app, you do not necessarily need to give these permissions to the app.
Periodically go back to your settings and review these permissions.
Always download apps from the official app stores
Both Apple and Google routinely check all code submitted to their app stores. While these checks are not always very thorough, they help protect you from unknown and dangerous apps.
Only these official stores make it possible for you to easily verify that the app really comes from the developer you believe it comes from. Otherwise, an app claiming to be from Facebook could have been created by anybody.
On Android, you have the option to install apps outside the Play Store. If your only option to install an app is outside of the Play Store, verify the integrity of this app by compiling it yourself from source or verifying its PGP signature.
Never root your phone
Both Android and iOS have strong safeguards in place that limit the amount of access an app has. An app should never be allowed to access data from other apps, or circumvent the permissions you gave it.
Apps also need to be properly cryptographically signed and submitted through the official app stores.
If you have rooted your phone, all these safeguards disappear, and you become much more vulnerable to hackers infiltrating your phone.
Turn Bluetooth off
If you have Bluetooth turned on, other devices will be able to see it. This can allow them to track your movement around a city or a mall. These tracking devices, often called beacons, can be as small as a penny and with a good source of power function remotely, tucked underneath seats in buses, or behind signs in the streets or malls.
The owner then simply needs to drop by their beacons once in awhile to download a list of devices detected. This can help track you. Advertisers can also send you unsolicited messages over Bluetooth, called Bluejacking. While this is harmless, it can be annoying.
Learn more about the dangers of mobile Wi-Fi with these articles:
- What Information Passes Through Your Mobile Networks
- Locking Your Device
- How Charging Your Cell Phone Exposes It to Risks
- The Dangers from Triangulating Your Location, Intercepting Calls, SMS
- How to Secure Your Mobile Apps