A smartphone is the perfect mobile companion for a small business owner. It can keep you connected and productive all day, even when you're away from the office. But your smartphone is also a big security risk. If you're not careful, private business or client data that you store or access on your smartphone could be compromised.
However, there are steps you can take to keep your business phone safe and secure. You can lock it down, back it up and tweak your settings to protect your most important data. Here are five ways to do it.
Lock your phone
Every major mobile operating system lets users secure their device with a password-protected lock screen. Many smartphone users set up lock screens to keep their personal data and messages safe from prying eyes, but it's an especially important tool if you use your phone for business. A four-digit PIN is easy to type, but a longer eight-digit code is much more secure. To minimize the annoyance of having to repeatedly enter your PIN, set your smartphone to autolock only after a short delay of 1 to 5 minutes.
Inputting a password every time you unlock your phone can be a bit of a nuisance, but it's an important first step in preventing data loss, particularly if a device is lost. Even if an unlocked device is misplaced, your business still has options. There are numerous apps that allow users to lock a smartphone remotely, or even wipe its memory, such as the Android Device Manager and the iCloud for iPhone.
Stick to approved apps
Google designed the Android operating system to be open and flexible. That means it's easy to install apps from sources other than Google's own app store. But be careful: Unapproved apps can be a serious security threat, with the potential to unleash harmful malware onto your device. And exposing your smartphone to malware could cause your private business data to be lost, corrupted or stolen. It's better to be safe than sorry, so never download or install Android software from any source other than the Google Play store.
In comparison, it's extremely difficult to install unapproved software on an iPhone or Windows Phone, and all apps are reviewed and approved before becoming available for download in their respective app stores. That makes those mobile platforms a bit more secure overall than Android. Still, there are a few pitfalls to avoid. For example, jailbreaking your iPhone allows you to install unapproved applications, but it's also the quickest way to open up your phone to serious security risks.
Back up your data
Thieves and malicious software aren't the only threats to your business data. Simply misplacing your smartphone can be disastrous if you haven't backed up the data stored on your phone. There are plenty of secure ways to keep your data backed up to the cloud. Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, SkyDrive and iCloud are all solid mobile apps that automate the process of syncing your business files to the cloud so you can access them from any Web-connected device, including your smartphone or tablet. They also include vital security features, such as data encryption, two-step verification and password-protected file sharing.
Check your permissions
Before you install an Android app, it will ask you to first approve a long list of permissions. Instead of glossing over it in a rush to install the app, check the entire list for anything that looks suspicious. If you notice something that doesn't seem to make sense, such as a calculator app that wants access to your email contacts, don't install the app. It's a good idea to avoid giving apps access to your address book, current location or other personal data unless it's really necessary. Don't trust apps that make illogical requests, or you could expose your private data to unnecessary risk.
For the most part, Apple's review process ensures that apps that make unreasonable permissions requests don't make it into its App Store. Privacy-conscious users may still want to check under Location Services in the Settings menu to ensure that apps aren't tracking your location unless they need to.
Install an anti-virus app
Malicious software can quickly cause sensitive data to become compromised or lost. If you use an Android smartphone to view, access or store private business data, make sure to install an appropriate app to protect your smartphone from malicious files. Avast, one of the best security suites for Windows PCs, offers a version of its software for Android. The program is free, so there's no need to carve out a portion of your business's budget for mobile security software. It's not the only Android anti-malware solution, but it is a good one.
Ultimately, Android is the only mobile operating system that calls for serious consideration of dedicated anti-virus and anti-malware software. Google's platform has looser restrictions on which apps can be downloaded and installed, so the majority of malware is targeted at that platform. If you stick to approved apps from the Google Play store, the platform is secure enough for business use. On the other hand, if you use an iPhone or Windows Phone for business, anti-malware software is probably unnecessary.