For people who use public Wi-Fi or poorly-maintained mobile data, the answer is no. Security for most people means luck, a bit of hope that they won’t be the target of random hacking, or just ignorance.
Instead of giving your data away to anyone who cares enough to steal it—and potentially steal your identity—here are a 5 Android apps that can secure your mobile internet use.
Mobile VPNs And Privacy Apps On The Go
- Surfshark(download here)
- HTTPS Everywhere
- Brave Browser
Who owns the wifi networks you use while outside? When you connect to a 4G network, where does your data go? Do you know who controls every hop in your connection’s path?
For most people, the answer is no. If you’re sending any kind of personal data such as credit card information, personally identifying material, or important secrets, you don’t want to trust random networks.
At best, your data won’t be seen by anyone unless a random hacker hijacks a wifi hotspot. At worst, someone is following you and waiting for a chance to steal your data.
Who would bother? It doesn’t have to be a government conspiracy or even police; anything from a controlling significant other to a business rival would have a reason to steal and possibly use your information.
The information could be used to open accounts in your name if it’s a random hacker, or to track you down when you’re ready to leave a bad situation. For businesses, the loss of trade secrets or financial data can give a rival the upper hand.
By using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), you can secure your data by making it much harder to track and penetrate. Your data becomes wrapped in a secure tunnel that hides your activities from prying eyes.
For hackers looking for random data to steal, you’re either too hard to deal with or someone to high five for using better security. For people looking for your data specifically, nothing can be seen but a mass of shielded information going to some distant server.
It takes a lot of effort to track down where you’re going with a VPN. They have to do more than track down which service you’re using; interested parties have to break into the VPN service’s security, make sense of your data, and then follow the many different paths that your data takes.
Private Chat Tools
There are lots of communication and social media tools out there. You don’t want private business on any of it.
Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and a plethora of other platforms specialize in sharing your information. Although there are “private” features such as direct messages and private messages, there’s always a chance that your info may be leaked in a data breach.
Even big communication platforms such as Discord and Slack are targets of breaches, not to mention the lack of security that comes with having lots of people on a server. Private servers can be made, but it’s too easy for an inexperienced team member to get friendly and social with their invites.
While there are ways to secure any service up until not using it at all, there is another tier of security. Apps such as Signal are available to make your communications a lot more secure.
Like so many other security systems, apps that claim to be private and secure must be considered carefully before trusting them. You need to understand their protective techniques before trusting any claims.
Do they encrypt their messages? What kind of encryption is done? Does the encryption happen before or after you send the information? Do you log into a VPN before using the app or not?
These questions cover multiple vectors or angles of intrusion. If the messages are unencrypted or in plaintext, anyone who breaks into the security or grabs your phone can read the message with no effort.
Encryption scrambles the messages, but how strong is the encryption? Scrambling a few letters is easy for not only decryption tools, but people who recognize patterns easily to figure out. Encryption standards such as Curve25519, AES-256, or HMAC-SHA256 can take up to 3×1051 years to crack.
That is, until a clever hacker figures out some critical secret to the encryption.
Finally, can you trust the service itself? Are your messages stored on any servers?
Even if they aren’t stored, there’s still some traces of the data passing through the systems. Although unlikely, can you trust the service not to allow people with bribes or government officials to look into their systems?
This is where certain secure communications apps shine. Legal protection is as always at the top of the privacy discussion, since some countries require access to businesses that hold data.
If the app is operated from a country with good privacy and independence laws, your data has a better chance of security. If not, a country may demand your data.
For security, prevention is key. There are a lot of fake apps that protect people who old styles of viruses and threats that exist on desktops and laptops, but it’s not quite necessary on mobile devices.
Instead of worrying about high-cost mobile antivirus suites, focus on a browser that blocks popups. Android and IOS devices have strict requirements, so it’s hard for you to download dangerous apps unless you go out of your way to click ads.
If you’re using third party apps in developer mode, you need to be extremely careful. Never put financial, personal, or sensitive data on a third party-modified phone unless you’re a confident and qualified tech security professional.
If you’re trying to protect a friend or family member who doesn’t know what to download, suggest an blocking app such as Boomerang. You can’t stop independent people from downloading what they want, but if they ask for your help, you could set parental controls.
That doesn’t mean they need your permission. You could create an additional authorization layer, meaning one more warning before installing the app. This can trigger the user to think twice about what they’re doing.
The “ok eyes” concept that started with home desktops is still strong. Amateurs and experts are willing to just hit “ok” and “next” whenever they see a prompt, and parental controls with passwords and PIN (Personal Identification Number) codes can slow that down.
Contact a mobile security professional to discuss other apps and techniques to keep your mobile devices secure.