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We love our mobile devices, from cell phones to smartphones and tablets, so we use them all the time. We get so comfortable with these gadgets that we’re not always thinking about how our behavior may expose us to major security risks, including identity theft. There are some bad mobile phone habits that many people may not even be aware they have, but all of them are simple enough to avoid. Here’s how.

1. Overusing Speakerphone

Sure, using speakerphone is convenient and it saves you from arm strain, but it also puts your conversation on display for everyone nearby. If you don’t want to risk sharing personal information about yourself or the person at the other end of the line, it’s best to keep speakerphone out of public spaces like malls, restaurants, or other busy places. This practice is typical for companies that take care of sustainability in the workplace and live paperless. At the very least, it’s good etiquette to let your conversation partner know they’re on speakerphone, so they don’t unknowingly say something that isn’t for anyone else’s ears.

2. Using Public Networks With a False Sense of Security

As we’ve already come to see, our mobile devices as extensions of ourselves, we often get too comfortable with them to think about how different places may require different security precautions. A majority of travelers use public Wi-Fi services, especially if they use smartphones or tablets.

While experience builds confidence that our data is secure at home, at work, or at other places we frequent, this also leads to a false sense of security when traveling. Because it’s difficult to determine if public Wi-Fi and other data services far from home are as secure as we’re used to, it’s important to take extra precautions with our devices while traveling.

3. Leaving Devices Unattended

Mobile phone security doesn’t have to be sophisticated. Leaving devices unattended, putting them on tables or countertops while distracted, and keeping them in loose pockets or open purses are all invitations to thieves. If a thief has access to your device, no viruses or sophisticated hacking schemes are necessary to steal your personal information. Keep your devices close and never leave them unattended in public places.

4. Creating Bad Passwords

The high functionality of mobile devices can be fun and convenient, but it also means we have to treat our devices more like personal computers than simple phones. It’s a great idea to lock your devices and the applications on them with passwords or PINs, but make sure they’re difficult to crack.

Passwords should be at least eight characters long and should include numbers and symbols. PINs should never be all the same number (“0000″), nor should they be meaningful things like birth dates that other people might be able to guess.

5. Accessing Public Wi-Fi Connections

Smartphone and tablet apps let us manage a lot of our lives on the go, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be careful about where we access our most sensitive data. As many as 89 percent of public Wi-Fi connections aren’t secure, leaving any users at risk for hackers and identity thieves. Apps for banking, a business’s financial management, or anything else that shouldn’t be public knowledge should remain closed while using open Wi-Fi.

6. Assuming Connections Are Safe While Traveling

Whether we’re on holiday traveling for business, we don’t like to limit our access to the info and entertainment we enjoy at home, so we use Internet connections on our mobile devices at airports, hotels, and cruise ships. Some of these connections are secure, but not all of them are. To avoid accidentally using an open connection, ask the provider questions about how often they change the password and what other security features they employ to protect user information. If you aren’t comfortable with the answers you receive, avoid using the connection.

7. Downloading Untrusted Apps

Just like it’s a bad idea to open email attachments from people you don’t know, it’s not safe to download just any application you come across. App downloads can contain viruses that destroy your device’s software, steal your data, or even pull pictures out of your phone’s camera.

Before you download an app, make sure it comes from a reputable place like the App Store, or Google Play, or is associated with a trusted real-world entity like a restaurant or store. When in doubt, look for reviews of the app online.

Mobile devices have changed the way we live, but that means we need to change the way we protect our information. Avoid these bad habits of cell phone use and enjoy this awesome technology without the risk of data theft.

Security Checklist

Overusing the speakerphone exposes personal conversation to nearby listeners.

Public Wi-Fi is often insecure, so it's important to take extra precautions with mobile devices while traveling.

Leaving devices unattended in public spaces invites thieves to steal personal information.

Passwords and PINs should be difficult to crack, including at least eight characters and a mix of numbers and symbols.

Public Wi-Fi connections are often unsecured, so sensitive data should be kept closed while using open Wi-Fi.

It's important to ask questions about the security features of Internet connections while traveling to avoid accidentally using an open connection.

Downloading untrusted apps can contain viruses that steal personal data, so it's important to download apps from reputable sources and look for reviews online.

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