If you are like me, you probably spend a lot of time on your phone.  My mom recently asked me why?  To her a phone is something that plugs into the wall that you use to call family and friends.   She even has an address book and a Yellow Pages (I didn’t even know those still existed).  During a recent visit, she was curious as to why I was seemingly always on this appendage.

The answer is simple.  Because pretty much everything in our lives is available through an app.  This is hard to explain to an eight two-year-old who has never owned an ATM card, but sometimes visualization works wonders.

Look at my apps.  Personal banking.  Changing insurance coverages.  Ordering food.  Checking Flights. Even dispatching the Uber to take us to dinner.  You wouldn’t think 26 years between mom and son would make that much of a difference, but in the world of technology, it does.

For many of us Gen Xers and beyond the phone is our go-to.  It is the economy of now that gets us through the day.   A lot has changed and our dependency, be it good or bad, on “big tech” is very real…and very different than even 20 or 30 years ago.

We live in a mobile world where billions of people possess app driven technology.  The app economy deepens customer engagement, improves customer experience, and drives in more and more revenue for a wide variety of goods and services.  Even in my world of providing industry leading subrogation solutions we focus on app capabilities for everything from developing SecondLook’s proprietary Chameleon technology and arbitration filings to conducting legal research and housing our extensive asset library.

However, wherever personal information or business opportunities reside, hackers lurk in the shadows, looking for opportunities to fund their illicit ventures on the dark web. This may go well beyond hackers, who are often perceived as being overseas.

Hacking apps isn’t a random thing; it is common and not overly difficult with the right tools. At the highest level, we can recall a 2017 WikiLeaks document dump about the CIA’s computer hacking tools, which highlighted the agency’s penetration of consumer electronics.

Beyond that we frequently hear of hacks involving dumps of data.   Pick a big company and you can probably find a data breach somewhere.  Some can be small; others can be hundreds of millions of users.

According to Security Intelligence, the majority of compromises took just minutes to complete. There are many tools available in the market to support hacking, and many of these tools are free. Mobile apps are easier to hack than centralized web environments as they are on distributed, fragmented and often unregulated ecosystems.

But there are ways to protect yourself from hackers:

  • Keep your apps up to date. It seems simple, and we typically do this on our laptops but often are remiss when it comes to apps. Sometimes there are no reminders; other times, it is frustrating because the interface changes. But the most important thing to remember is that most hacks exploit vulnerabilities that have since been patched.
  • Periodically give your app portfolio a once over. Take a look at your privacy under your settings. Delete apps you are no longer using. Make sure that the proper level of privacy is in place on your phone, social media, and apps.
  • Be cautious of what you install. Whenever you download an app, you are granting certain permissions. Are you taking the time to read the user agreement? Don’t worry, neither am I, nor most people for that matter. But oftentimes you are giving access to certain capabilities. This becomes especially troublesome when there are lax app vetting processes in place.
  • Don’t make it easy for thieves. Having a password that is not easy to guess is a start. Facial or thumbprint recognition provides additional security; although, none of the above is perfect. Think about the thief who swipes your purse containing your facial recognition prompted iPhone. Having the ability to use your ID to pull up your picture online and use your LinkedIn public profile image to unlock the phone, while perhaps a stretch, could be quite problematic.
  • Auto-login is great…unless you forget to log out. Using a password manager can minimize this risk and using different passwords for different accounts lowers your risks even more.
  • Watch out for public Wi-Fi, where your usage could potentially be monitored by specialized software. Stick to VPN tools that route traffic through encrypted channels.
  • Be careful what you post on social media. Consider that nearly two-thirds of Facebook accounts have limited or no privacy settings, which becomes a treasure trove for hackers. Some users will show their actual name, date of birth, city of birth and current residence. There really isn’t much more needed to create an alter ego to hack your accounts and set up fake profiles.
  • Give some thought to investing in smartwatches that can keep track of your phone, and if they lose contact, can provide you with notification if your phone is more than 100 yards away, a possible indication of theft. Even in the absence of a smartwatch, several steps can be taken, such as enabling the “find my phone” functionality or programming your phone to automatically erase after a certain number of login attempts.

The bottom line is that we are all vulnerable unless we decide to forgo all technology (yes, the thought has crossed my mind). But we must balance safety and security with convenience and practicality. Perhaps you have tried to give up social media for a New Year’s resolution or your smartphone for Lent. It’s tough. Really tough. We have become a truly mobile society where virtual connections with everything from family and friends to banks and consumer products.

We can’t live in fear of hackers, but a better understanding of how to prevent them from attacking us will go a long way toward providing some peace of mind.

Chris Tidball is an executive claims consultant with SecondLook, Inc., a leader in subrogation solutions.  He is a frequent speaker at insurance trade shows and the author of multiple books including Re-Adjusted: 20 Essential Rules To Take Your Claims Organization From Ordinary To Extraordinary, as well as the acclaimed thriller Deep State: A Jake McFarland Thriller.  You can e-mail him at ctidball@2ndlook.net.