How to protect your smartphone from unnecessary dangers

Mark Carpenter

Manfred Bremmer deals with (almost) everything that falls into the areas of mobile computing and communications. Preferably takes a close look at mobile solutions, operating systems, apps and devices and reviews them for their business suitability. Bremmer is interested in gadgets of all kinds and also tests them.

To be able to leave your smartphone unattended, you need good friends or the right protective measures.
Photo: Jacob Lund –

1. Protect your notifications from prying eyes

The notifications on a smartphone reveal a lot about its owner. From account balance messages to incoming e-mails or chat messages – all sorts of things appear on the (lock) screen of the device. For the user, this is quite convenient, but curious glances from friends or table neighbors also tend to stray to the information shown there.

Here’s how to remedy the situation: You can set the amount and content of notifications in your smartphone’s settings. In Android’s notification management, for example, there is the option of changing the display from "All notifications" to to "Do not show notifications or "Hide content of notifications" to change.

On iOS you can use the "Preview of the notifications (Messages – show previews) from "Always, on "When unlocked or on "Never change. Set the option "When unlocked" under iOS one, the messages will only be readable if you unlock the device via code, TouchID or FaceID. Already, the notifications from Whatsapp, Facebook, online banking, e-mails& Co. safe from prying eyes.

2. Always protect your smartphone with a PIN

Another feature to secure the content on your smartphone is to use a PIN code to lock the device. This should ideally have six digits, so that you can also put a stop to curious people with a little more criminal energy and expertise. Even safer is a random combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. You can activate the desired variant in iOS under "Settings>" Touch/Face ID& Code> Change code" and then in the code options select.

On Android, tap the "Security" section of the settings on "Screen lock and select the "Password" method.

Even if it is more convenient not to create a PIN code: Do it! Especially since with the support of facial recognition and fingerprint sensor it is hardly an extra effort to secure the access to all data and the smartphone functions. Especially under iOS you get with FaceID or TouchID a biometric unlocking possibility, which can be considered as sufficiently safe until today.

3. Shorten the time period for the screen to be idle

With the lock mode for your smartphone, you should also set the time until the device goes to sleep or is automatically locked after the last use. For Android phones, you can choose a time period between "Immediately" and "Lock" and 30 minutes, on iOS between 30 seconds and 5 minutes. The display timeout should start as soon as possible, but on the other hand, it should not limit the usage too much either. If PIN protection is activated, the device is locked at the same time as the screen is turned off, or you should set it up accordingly on Android.

4. Use secure and different passwords

Even if it is more comfortable: passwords like "1234", "123456", "password", "Werner1974" or "schalke04" for online services etc. are not safe! Do not use words that can be easily guessed. A good password should – not even in parts – not be in any dictionary, it should contain upper/lower case, numbers as well as special characters and have a certain length. Names of family members, pets and friends as well as their dates of birth are also taboo.

Once you have found a password that meets the criteria, you should also resist the temptation to use it for several services at once. Increasingly frequent database hacks of online services, where personal data and log-ins are also tapped in plain text or insufficiently encrypted. The risk is high that hackers will try these data packages – offered on the darknet – on other popular services as well.

Helpful in creating secure passwords are the password suggestions offered by Apple and Google for supported websites and apps.

5. Only use apps from trusted sources

Another threat to your terminal device and the data stored on it is malware. Avoiding harmful apps sounds easy at first, but it’s not always easy, especially on Android. Avoid any sideloading and only use apps from the official Google PlayStore and Apple AppStore. In Android, also make sure that the function "Installation from unknown origin" is activated in the security settings is deactivated.

6. The developers must also be trustworthy

Unfortunately, even Google’s PlayStore and Apple’s AppStore occasionally contain apps that play tricks with your device. Therefore, pay attention to who the developer of a software is and whether you actually install the desired app – and not an app with a similar name of malicious free riders. Unfortunately, it happens from time to time that malicious copies of known apps are offered in the PlayStore or the AppStore.

7. Keep your apps up to date – but please not automatically

App and operating system updates are important. They fix bugs or unlock new features. However, new versions also contain new malfunctions from time to time. For example, iOS 13 offered many new "cool" features in the first versions Functions – but also many broken features. This is where it pays to keep a healthy eye on updates. For the reasons mentioned above, this is especially true for the time after major updates – unfortunately, it is now often the case that new versions with bug fixes are quickly added due to bugs that have occurred.

8. Pay attention to the access rights of apps to your data

In both iOS and Android, it is possible to granularly specify which app can access which functions (z.B. camera, microphone) or data (e.g.B. contacts, location). For an app to gain access, the user must grant or deny it. Here, too, a release with a sense of proportion is necessary. A phone app on Android, for example, must be allowed to access the device’s microphone and contacts in order to work – a flashlight app, for example, does not (see also Tip 6).

9. Do not click on links from ominous senders

No, no Nigerian bank employee wants to share the million-dollar inheritance of a deceased customer with you, and Deutsche Post doesn’t ask for your bank data because it misdelivered an important package either. Even if most users recognize when a message looks serious or obscure – many click anyway. There are so many messages circulating on the Internet with fake senders offering you vouchers, prizes or "credit card data to be changed urgently" lure users to dangerous websites. Delete such messages and do not click anywhere on them.

10. Avoid rooting or jailbreaking your phone

Rooting for Android or jailbreaking for iOS is the process of extending user privileges on the device in question. Users are thus able to modify their devices in places that are inherently forbidden/prohibited. But this opening also undermines numerous security measures of the system. Such devices offer a larger attack surface for third parties.

For example, with an iOS jailbreak, it is possible, among other things, to install alternative app stores such as Cydia or Sileo on the device. However, not only practical apps will be offered there, but also apps that are designed to harm the user. From viruses, malware and co. iPhone and iPad are no longer safe due to a jailbreak.

If you still want to root or jailbreak your device, if possible, you should be familiar with the matter and know what you are doing. And if you really don’t let it stop you, please at least change the password of the "root" and "mobile" Users – if you don’t know what is meant by it, you should leave it alone in the first place.


Protecting your own device is actually not that hard – you should just follow some rules. The use of additional security tools such as virus scanners, on the other hand, already overshoots the mark – at least with Apple and iOS – because the system protects itself by sandboxing the apps. This protection system shields apps and iOS itself from access by other apps. A virus scanner is subject to the same regulations here and can therefore neither scan the system for malware, nor check other apps and their data.

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