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If you thought your smartphone was safe from hackers, think again. Bad guys can use ransomware, viruses and other malware to get into your phone, steal your personal information and gain access to your contacts. Your phone is also vulnerable to plain, old-fashioned theft, and it’s not just the device itself thieves want — it’s the data stored in its memory circuits.

There’s a lot you can do to keep your phone safe from hackers and thieves, but when it comes to Android security, some precautions are more meaningful than others. Here are the five most important, and most effective, steps you can take to protect your phone and the data it contains.


1) Keep It Updated

If you’re one of the many smartphone users who hates to install a system update, we’ve got some bad news for you: Installing those updates keeps your phone safe from hackers and malware. That’s because most hackers access devices by exploiting security flaws in the device’s OS that have already been addressed via patches issued as part of regular updates. If you don’t install your updates, you’re leaving your phone needlessly vulnerable.

Still not convinced? Well, security isn’t the only reason you should update your phone’s firmware. Those updates fix bugs, enhance features and can even add new features, so you can get more out of your device.

2) Set a PIN or Password

While you should definitely be worried about the threat posed by hackers and malware, the threat of physical theft is also real. Setting a PIN or password-protected lock screen is the easiest and most effective precaution you can take against theft. Sure, it won’t keep someone from swiping your device, but it could keep them out of it just long enough for you to wipe the phone remotely using Google device manager.

A six-digit PIN is the most effective means of locking your phone, but a hard-to-crack password is also pretty effective. Biometric and pattern-recognition locks are easier to crack, but still better than nothing. If your phone is stolen, the most important thing is to keep thieves from accessing it until you can wipe it from afar.

3) Use Antivirus Protection

Most smartphone malware comes from malicious apps, but that’s not the only way you can get malware on your phone. You can get it by stumbling onto an infected website, clicking a link in a phishing email or downloading the wrong attachment. Online games, gambling, social media scams and even malicious advertisements, or “malvertising,” wait to ensnare you. You need solid, reputable internet security software to protect your phone and other devices. Look for a vendor that provides protection for every device in your home.

4) Avoid Third-Party Apps

Most apps that you download in the Google Play store are safe, although malicious apps have been known to slide under the radar and hang out on the Play store for months. However, Google does its best to keep malicious apps out of the Play store and to quickly take down those that do appear. You’re still less likely to find a malicious app here than, say, on some random website. Even large third-party app stores, like Amazon Appstore, aren’t as safe.

5) Scrutinize Your Permissions Carefully

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Are you still worried about downloading a malicious app from Google Play? That’s not at all unreasonable, but a little careful critical thinking on your part can help you make sure you’re not inadvertently downloading malware.

One of the most effective tricks is to scrutinize the permissions the app wants with a critical eye. Ask yourself what the app’s primary functions are, and whether it needs the permissions it’s asking for complete those functions. Does that calorie-counting app need access to your contacts list? Does that solitaire game need to access your network state or use your camera? If the apps permissions seem weird, don’t download it. App permissions remain the most common way hackers get information from your device or get malware onto it.

Your smartphone is vulnerable to malware, hackers and theft, but you can protect it. Take these five simple steps to keep your phone, and the information it contains, safe.

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