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3 tips for better smartphone security

There are few technological innovations within the consumer space as revolutionary as the smartphone. These gadgets have allowed people to access the power of the internet regardless of where they are, which is both an incredible gift and a terrible curse. While having just about any piece of information you'd ever want right in your pocket is fantastic, smartphones are also just another avenue for hackers to exploit you. 

However, this doesn't mean you should chuck your device in the trash and live off the grid. Rather, you should be mindful of how you use your smartphone and how you can prevent a cyber attack. To that end, let's take a quick peek at the top three tips for better smartphone security:

1. Use a password, not a PIN

Before delving into any complicated digital attacks, let's first discuss how a hacker might gain access to your information by gaining physical access to your phone. According to a study conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, around 5.2 million Americans either lost their smartphone or had it stolen in 2014. Therefore, it's imperative that you properly secure your device. 

"PINs are a lot less secure than an actual password."

A lot of phones start you off with a four-digit PIN, but these are a lot less secure than an actual password with words and numbers. iPhone users can change this by going to Settings, then selecting Passcode and turning off the Simple Passcode option. Android owners should go to Settings and select Lock Screen to get options for locking the device.

2. Be cautious around public Wi-Fi networks

To encourage customers to stick around and buy more, a lot of companies have started implementing free Wi-Fi in their establishments. While this is great for those that don't have a reliable connection at home, you should be cautious about using these services. Due to the fact that these public Wi-Fi options aren't encrypted, hackers often employ something called a man-in-the-middle attack, which is where the criminal basically watches all the internet traffic that passes through the unsecured network. 

Hackers can gain access to data by monitoring network traffic. Using your smartphone to bank in the coffee shop might not be a good idea.

This is worrisome because a lot of people transmit sensitive information over their mobile devices. In fact, the Pew Research Center found that 57 percent of Americans use their smartphone for online banking. Although there's nothing wrong with checking out your finances on the go, you should make sure you aren't doing so on a public Wi-Fi network. 

3. Never trust third-party app stores

A lot of people have started to turn to third-party app stores, as the vendors sell products that the standard stores simply don't. However, there's a reason more established institutions turn these apps away. Hackers often use lax security policies at these marketplaces to attach malware to downloads without the consumer even noticing. To ensure the safety of your device, it's best to simply avoid these third-party app stores altogether.