Securing Mobile: Introduction

Smartphones are the cutting edge of surveillance technology. For most people, their miniature super computers go with them everywhere, tracking your movements, communications, content intake, interests (via the apps downloaded and sites visited), and in many cases they even track health information like steps taken and sleep habits like morning alarms, even if you not specifically configured to do so.

Imagine for a moment if your phone got lost. Imagine a stranger picking up your phone and checking it. Maybe they're a good person trying to get it back its owner, but maybe they're not. They can see your banking app and maybe even access your account just by opening it. They can read all your texts and scroll through your pictures. They can even check your web history or map history. Losing your phone is more than an inconvenience or expense, it's a massive personal risk. The biggest step you can take to minimize this surveillance and maximize your security is to become less dependent on your phone. For example, if you're going to the grocery store like usual, you already know where it is. Leave the phone at home and taken a shopping list written manually on a slip of paper.

Try as we might, sometimes we have no choice but to carry or use our phones. You may need it to navigate to a new place or be reachable while on the job. The next best step is to minimize the data collected by your phone in the first place. In this sub-chapter, I'm going to share settings, apps, and general recommended behaviors for both iOS and Android that can be changed to maximize your privacy settings.

Android or iOS?

This debate raged since the beginning of smartphones. Androids are popular in the general population because they are cheap and offer much more customization than iOS. However, I recommend iOS for one reason: superior security. Because iOS devices are manufactured by Apple with very little variation between the hardware, pushing out updates is incredibly easy. Android devices are made by a wide variety of manufacturers with various different components and modified versons of the Android operating system, meaning every time a new update gets released it must be delivered to the manufacturers first so they can make it work with the various devices they support before pushing it out. (Source) Additionally, the Apple store has a stricter approval system for apps, meaning that it's harder to place malicious apps in the App Store than the Google Play Store. (Source) Apple devices also tend to be supported (meaning they get updates) for many years, while Android devices typically only get supported for three years or less. (Source)

Regardless of the device you choose, I highly discourage you from ever jailbreaking or rooting your phone. Compromising a phone like that disables many of the security features, prevents you from getting security updates, and generally makes you significantly more susceptible to malware.