How to keep your mobile devices safe from hackers

Robin Layton

Nov 9, 2023 — 6 min read

Multi-factor authentication, strong passwords and common sense can keep your mobile phone safe.

Adult watching a cell phone while on a couch.

Over 60% of internet traffic comes from people using their mobile devices to stream, shop and browse. And while most of us protect our online lives with internet security precautions installed on our home and work computers, mobile devices like cell phones are often overlooked security risks. In fact, in December 2022, the number of global mobile cyberattacks was approximately 2.2 million

If you use your phone data for your sole internet connection, you may be placing yourself at a higher risk of a security breach like those listed below, so consider using a variety of the measures also mentioned below.

Top mobile phone security threats

There are several types of security threats that can affect your mobile phone. Like phishing, for example, some of these are similar to attacks on desktop or laptop computers:

  • Malicious apps and websites: Investigate the web address before you click on an unfamiliar website. A secure website’s URL should begin with “https” rather than “http.” This ensures your information will be encrypted before being sent to a server. Also, click on the “lock” icon to verify that a website is trustworthy, suggests Boston University’s TechWeb. Never download an app from an unknown source; use The App Store or Google Play.
  • Mobile ransomware: Mobile ransomware locks your device and displays a message that the device has been locked due to “illegal activity.” Then, a demand for a fee is made in order to unlock the phone.
  • Phishing: This is when emails pretending to be from a reputable source trick you into giving away personal info like passwords or credit card data. Never click on a link in an unfamiliar email. If you doubt the validity of it, go to the company’s actual website and log-in from there to see if they are trying to contact you. 
  • Man-in-the-middle attacks: A man-in-the-middle attack occurs when a person puts themselves in a conversation between a user and an application to eavesdrop or to impersonate one of the parties. The purpose is to steal personal information. Popular targets are e-commerce sites and other sites and apps where you need to log in, like your banking app.
  • Jailbreaking and rooting: Jailbreaking refers to getting around Apple software restrictions to manage your iPhone phone at an administrator level. Rooting refers to doing the same on an Android. Although not illegal, you do open your device up to malware and hacks. 
  • Spyware: Apps you don’t know are on your phone can track your every online keystroke, collecting personal data, including your location, which can jeopardize your physical safety. 

How to stay safe on your mobile phone

There are many ways to ensure your information stays secure while using your mobile phone. You need to be proactive by updating software, installing some security apps and remaining vigilant when clicking shady urls. 

Update your mobile software 

It’s tempting to keep putting off that pesky alert telling you to update your mobile phone’s software. 

However, those updates often include the latest security lapses and patches for your device, so it’s best to install them immediately when they alert you. 

Install an antivirus application

Most cell phones, especially those you buy and contract with a provider like T-Mobile or Verizon, already have security features loaded on them. There are also several excellent security apps on the market for both Android and iPhone devices. Some are free and others run less than $20/mo.

Best android antivirus apps 

  • Bitdefender Mobile Security: At $17.49/mo., Bitdefender protects your device from link-based mobile scams, provides a VPN, and can remotely locate and lock your Android phone when lost or stolen. 
  • Norton Mobile Security: For $17.99/mo., Norton can detect fraudulent and malicious websites when you use a browser, app, SMS, MMS, email and social networking sites. It also offers a privacy monitor that finds your info on public sites and requests removal on your behalf, as well as an app advisor.
  • Avast Mobile Security: This free app can hide your online activity and access geo-restricted content with a VPN, secure your photos and apps using a PIN code, pattern, or fingerprint password, and send an alert if any passwords connected to your email account have been part of a leak or hack. It also offers an enhanced package starting at under $5/mo. 
  • Kaspersky Mobile Antivirus: For just over $50/mo. and up to five devices, Kaspersky offers real-time antivirus protection, online payment and webcam protection, as well as unlimited access to a VPN. There is also a more expensive package available with expanded security features. 
  • Lookout Security & Antivirus: Lookout offers device security, with email, text and web protections, as well as identity and financial protection. Yearly prices start at $59.99.
  • McAfee Mobile Security: Starting at $29.99/yr., McAfee offers a secure VPN, identity monitoring, password manager and more.

Best iPhone antivirus apps

  • TotalAV: This free download removes malware, viruses, adware and spyware threats.
  • Norton: At $17.99/yr., Norton for iOS offers Wi-Fi, internet, SMS, calendar and device security with suspicious network detection.
  • Bitdefender: For 17.49/yr., Bitdefender protects personal data: passwords, addresses, social and financial information. It also reports on usage and threats and provides access to a VPN.
  • Avira: Starting at $3.99/mo., Avira offers iOS device users a VPN, robocall protection, anti-theft and web protection, with more options available.
  • McAfee Mobile Security: McAfee offers scam protection that scans the URLs in text messages and blocks risky links from emails, texts and social media against accidental clicks.
  • ESET NOD32: Starting at $39.99/yr., ESET provides data encryption and banking protection, as well as antispyware, ransomware protection, download scanning and more.
Mobile internet safety tips

Additional tips for mobile safety

Most mobile phones come with security features like those below. You can also add VPNs separately without using a security app. 

  • Strong passwords and PINs: Never use a pet’s, spouse’s or child’s name and birth years for security codes. Always include odd characters and numbers that have no significance to you. 
  • Biometric protection: Some devices lock your phone with facial and fingerprint recognition. You can also find apps for this if your device doesn’t come preloaded.
  • Don’t store passwords in notes apps: Note-taking apps may not offer any level of security. In fact, most notes can be seen by the data storage company and others.
  • Multi-factor authentication: Opt for as many authentication ways as you can; for example, along with the password, users might be asked to enter a code sent to their email.
  • Use VPNs: Virtual private networks allow verified users to connect to a private network that is encrypted. It’s easy to connect a VPN to your mobile phone. The highly regarded ExpressVPN starts at under $7/mo., although there are free ones available. Be careful when selecting the right one. 
  • Avoid public Wi-Fi: Open networks like you find at coffee shops are never safe from hackers. If you must use public Wi-Fi, use a Wi-Fi hotspot that requires a password.
  • Turn off your Bluetooth: Bluetooth is open to hackers. Even turning it off sometimes doesn’t prevent location monitoring by apps like Facebook or Google. Keeping it off will prevent bluesnarfing, which is a type of hacking used to damage a device or collect personal information. 
  • Log out of applications: Don’t stay logged into apps – it makes it easier for hackers poking around your device to retrieve more personal information.
  • Use spam call blocking: If your phone doesn’t offer spam call blocking, download a call-blocking app. The Federal Communications Commission offers a Do Not Call registry and helpful tips on spam blocking:

Mobile device security FAQs

How do I get rid of a virus on an Android device?

If you notice your battery dying faster than usual or the phone has significantly slowed down, you may have a virus. Check your phone for the ability to scan for malware or download one on Google Play. McAfee offers several tips on what to do after your scan shows the issue. Steps include locating the bad app and uninstalling it. Then, do a factory reset on the device.

An overheated iPhone, slowing down or unwanted ads popping up are signs of a virus. To find and remove, download an iOS-appropriate security app and run a virus scan.

To keep hackers out of your mobile phone, use all the preloaded safety features available, like multi-factor authentication and virus scans. Consider installing a VPN to keep your browsing private.

Apple is designed to withstand attacks and uses XProtect. According to McAfee, “Apple devices are designed to work only inside set parameters that ‘talk’ exclusively to other approved Apple apps or devices. This is all controlled by Apple encryption, making your iPhone security rather impervious to malicious apps.” If you “jailbreak” your iPhone, however, you’ve opened it up – literally – to hackers.

Robin Layton

Written by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband Content

Robin Layton is an editor for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. She built her internet industry expertise writing and editing for four years on the site, as well as on Allconnect’s sister site … Read more