Remember the old days when parents used to complain that their kids spent too much time on the family phone with their friends? Well, now we just wish our kids would talk. According to a recent study by The Pew Internet & American Life Project, 23 percent of U.S. teens now own smartphones and a majority (63 percent) are using them to text friends instead of call them—to the tune of 3,339 text messages a month on average.
But that, Mom and Dad, shouldn’t be your biggest concern. Just having a smartphone makes your kids an easy target of cybercriminals. Hackers are targeting smartphones because they’re a treasure trove of personal data. In 2011, 7 percent of smartphone owners were subject to identity fraud, according to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research—a frightening number when you consider that almost 25 percent of kids ages 12 to 17 have a smartphone, as reported by Pew Research Center.
Here are six cellphone security tips that can protect your child and his or her phone.
1. Set the screen lock. For an iPhone, you can choose a four-digit numeric PIN or an eight-character alphanumeric passcode, which is more secure. For an Android phone, screen locks vary by device. You can also set the phone to auto-lock after a preselected time delay so your child doesn’t have to keep reentering it.
2. Choose a tricky passcode. Avoid obvious passcodes like 1111, birthdays, addresses and the like.
3. Activate auto-delete. This cellphone security feature should be turned on to wipe out data in case the phone is lost or stolen. You can set it to wipe all the data after a specified number of failed attempts to get into the phone.
4. Turn off Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS when not in use. Hackers can tap into phones using these programs.
5. Get the updates. Operating system updates usually include cellphone security patches, so install them right away.
6. Download applications only from reputable sites. The iPhone apps are vetted by Apple and usually secure, but Android apps can come from anywhere—including cybercriminals. Be sure to read the permissions list and see what you might be agreeing to.