What digital security experts wish you knew about data privacy

Digital security becomes more important every year, especially when it comes to our mobile apps. Many people use apps for entertainment, navigation, fitness, and social networking, yet they have a reputation for being difficult to trust. Unfortunately, even if you tell an app to stop tracking you, there's no way to know for sure. No data privacy is foolproof in today's world of ever-evolving technology. If the firm behind it is sold, changes direction, or gets compromised due to a defect, an app that performs well today might become a terrible actor tomorrow. With that in mind, now is the time to strengthen your defenses.

There are ways to find and delete the information Google has on you, as well as new privacy settings in Android and iOS that restrict applications from tracking you. There is, however, more you can do to protect your data and boost the security of your smartphone. We spoke with data privacy and security experts on the safeguards that more people should take while using smartphone apps. The following is a list of their suggestions.

  1. Use a password manager

The most secure passwords are those made up of random characters. A random sequence of letters, numbers, and symbols is less likely to appear in a dictionary and more difficult to crack using brute force by a computer. The drawback is that these lengthy passwords are far more difficult to remember.

This is when a password manager comes in handy. All of your passwords are consolidated into a single encrypted and password-protected software by password organizers. They're also capable of creating and remembering complicated passwords. While Google Chrome and Samsung's phone app may save passwords for you, security experts always advise using a password manager.

If one account is compromised as a result of a data breach, all accounts are compromised. Using a password manager, each of your accounts may have a unique, complicated, and difficult-to-crack password. Some websites will even generate passwords for you.

  1. Use a VPN on public Wi-Fi for data privacy

Experts recommend utilizing a VPN if you want to connect to a public Wi-Fi network on your phone rather than using mobile data. A virtual private network can protect your data from being snooped on by other individuals who may be using the same public network as you. They can also hide your data transfers, allowing you to evade screening and restrictions on the internet and access a greater range of information from across the world. Everything you need to know about VPNs is right here.

For our purposes, it can keep you from needing to connect to a free public network where others can acquire access to your phone. When looking for a provider, it's critical to do your homework and find out if the company is well-known and trustworthy. There are many free VPN programs available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, but some have questionable practices, so use caution.

  1. Be mindful of app permissions

Almost every expert recommended double-checking the app's permissions. Consider whether or not it's suitable for an app to request specific permissions. A request for data that has nothing to do with the app's function is a huge red flag.

"For example, if you download a simple pocket calculator app and it wants access to your contact list and location," explained Cardswitcher CEO Stephen Hart. "Why is it necessary for a calculator to have access to your phone book and present location? Such demands should raise some red flags."

Apart from paying attention to the permissions you provide an app; it's also critical to monitor how your phone performs once you install it. Significant changes in your device's battery life, according to Shlomie Liberow, a technical program manager and security specialist at HackerOne, are another warning indication, because rogue software may run in the background all the time.

"If your battery life is dwindling faster than usual after installing an app, it might be a sign that the software is up to no good and is likely running in the background," Liberow noted.

  1. Research the app or company

While it is impossible to know if an app has malicious intentions just on its appearance, a fast Google search can provide further information. The experts advised looking for the app's name as well as the phrases "data scandal" or "scam." According to Hart, the results should reveal if the organization has recently encountered any privacy or data leaks.

"This search should also inform you if data breaches are widespread at that organization. If they have, how they have dealt with them," Hart added. "If the company has been affected multiple times and has done nothing to address the issue, avoid the app — it suggests that they aren't taking the issue seriously."

  1. Limit social media exposure for data privacy

The data controversy involving Cambridge Analytica has left the popular social media platform in hot water. Even users who have abandoned Facebook in the aftermath of the scandal (or who have never registered a profile in the first place) may be subject to privacy violations. If you appear on a friend's or family member's account, you are still visible online. Businesses may create a "shadow profile" of a person's likes, dislikes, political leanings, religious views, and other information based on the observation of those accounts.

Regardless of what the site asks for on your profile, it's recommended to keep the amount of information you provide on social media to a minimum. The more data you provide, the more data is available to create advertising for you. Fill up just the necessary information. More information is in danger in the case of a data breach.

  1. Keep software up to date for best data privacy

According to Walsh, taking the effort to upgrade your smartphone's operating system is vital to keeping your data protected. The upgrades keep you ahead of hackers and the latest vulnerabilities they're disseminating throughout the internet. Hart advised you to change your phone's settings so that it updates automatically.

"Think of software upgrades as smartphone immunizations," Hart added. "Because the tactics used by thieves to hack into your phone and steal your data are always improving, the methods we employ to defend our cellphones must also adapt."

  1. Only download apps from Google and Apple's stores

Not all programs in the App Store or Google Play are completely trustworthy. Experts recommend that you always download from the official shops rather than side-loading an app.

According to Walsh, downloading an app from an unapproved or unsafe source increases the danger of ransomware, malware, spyware, and Trojan infections infiltrating your device. He claims that in the worst-case situation, the hacker will have complete control of your gadget.

"A natural mix of evaluations should contain a range of rankings," Baker says. "Some phony apps will also display phony reviews."

Unusual speaking patterns, as well as high ratings without a description or explanation, should raise red flags. Baker also recommended looking to see whether an app has been reviewed on a third-party website.

"The finest and most trustworthy source of information here will be long-form peer reviews," Baker noted.

For more information, check how to stop apps from spying on you on iOS and Android. Also 12 data and privacy features you probably didn't know about until now.