It seems you can’t turn the television on these days without news of another large data security breach. As tens of millions of Target shoppers recently discovered, it’s unrealistic to assume your data will remain safe in the hands of retailers, banks and other similar entities.

But while we can’t safeguard our data on outside networks, we can take steps to mitigate the possibility of a security or privacy breach on our own mobile devices.

“There are a number of steps savvy mobile users can take to minimize risk,” said technology expert Jason Hope. “The use of effective anti-malware or anti-virus applications, combined with the power of encryption, can provide mobile users with an added layer of protection. But cautious activity on the part of the user is still the best protection.”

License: Amy Taylor
License: Amy Taylor

Let’s examine some smart steps mobile phone owners can take to protect their data.

Finding the right software

Many smartphone owners dismiss the need for mobile security applications, preferring to view them as more suited for desktop computing. That view is sadly outmoded. A report by network innovation firm Juniper Networks found that mobile malware threats increased at an incredible rate of 614-percent between 2012 and 2013. The report further found that 92-percent of attacks were directed at Android devices. That’s sobering news for any mobile user, but particularly alarming for those who don’t take steps to safeguard their devices.

Mobile devices are now critical information conduits both in the workplace and at home, and sensitive business information or important personal financial data should be zealously protected. Installing effective and comprehensive mobile security software is one of the best ways to accomplish this. But beware: Not all mobile security applications are created equal. Studies have shown many of the free apps on the market offer limited protection — though there are a few free options that score reasonably well. Being lulled into a false sense of protection is little better than no protection at all, so it’s important to invest in a reputable, powerful mobile security app with a full palette of privacy and security functions.

User behavior

Perhaps the single best move a mobile user can make with regard to privacy and security is also the simplest — always adhere to smart security practices. That means solid password protection, whether it is of the numeric, patterned or face screen variety. While it’s tempting to use no password protection, or maybe just a four digit code, most of us wouldn’t opt for such paltry protection for our e-mail or social media accounts. So why are our phones any different? If anything, they should be more carefully protected, since access to a smartphone often means access to bank accounts, e-mail, social media, photos and everything else — all in one fell swoop.

Basic data encryption is also a great idea. Some phones offer a much higher natural level of protection, so it’s important to understand the strength or weaknesses or your hardware, and adjust your software accordingly. The encryption process for Android owners is much more involved than that for iPhone owners, but given the added security issues faced by Android owners, opting for the added benefit of encryption makes sense.

Along with basic security procedures, it’s important for mobile users to exercise caution when downloading applications. It’s easy for malware to find its way on a device even if the application appears legitimate, so mobile users should only trust developers with a proven track record. The same principle applies to basic Web browsing. User behavior can radically reduce the odds for a security or privacy breach, and it’s the most cost-effective form of prevention.

Protecting privacy

Along with basic security protections, it never hurts to keep privacy in mind as well. Keeping the amount of information shared on social networks to a minimum, using anonymous Web browsers and refusing to provide personal details for consumer loyalty programs are smart ways to keep your data from going straight into the hands of corporations and marketing firms. While it’s impossible to live entirely off the grid in the era of Big Data, use of techniques such as the above can at least minimize your footprint.

About Author: Amy Taylor is a technology and business writer. Amy began her career as a small business owner in Phoenix, Arizona. She has taken that knowledge and experience and brought that to her unique writing capabilities. She really enjoys new business related issues that are tied directly to technology.