March 15, 2017

Many smartphone owners don’t take steps to secure their devices

Cybersecurity experts recommend that smartphone owners take a number of steps to keep their mobile devices safe and secure. These include using a pass code to gain access to the phone, as well as regularly updating a phone’s apps and operating system. Many Americans, however, are not adhering to these best practices, according to a Pew Research Center report released earlier this year.

More than a quarter (28%) of smartphone owners say they do not use a screen lock or other security features to access their phone. And while a majority of smartphone users say they have updated their phone’s apps or operating system, about 40% say they only update when it’s convenient for them. Meanwhile, some users forgo updating their phones altogether: Around one-in-ten  smartphone owners report they never update their phone’s operating system (14%) or update the apps on their phone (10%).

The security of mobile phones has drawn new attention following disclosures by WikiLeaks that the CIA reportedly has the capability to hack into some devices and bypass encryption software. There have also been several high-profile cases of smartphone hacking in recent years. 

The story around mobile security is not all negative. Very few smartphone owners (3%) say they never update their phone’s apps or operating system or use a screen lock to access their phone. And some users are especially diligent when it comes to mobile security, taking the steps most recommended by cybersecurity experts. Around one-in-five smartphone owners (22%), for example, say they use a screen lock for their phone, update their apps either automatically or as soon as an update is available, and immediately update their device’s operating system when a new version is offered.

But most users (75%) fall in the middle of the mobile security spectrum. This group includes smartphone owners who use a screen lock but, unlike more diligent users, only update their phone’s apps and operating system when it’s convenient for them to do so.

Across age groups, similar shares of smartphone owners report taking a mix of mobile security steps, but owners ages 65 and older are much less likely than adults younger than 65 to use a screen lock and regularly update their phone’s apps and operating system (13% vs. 23%). Smartphone users 65 and older are also more than twice as likely as younger users to report that they do not take any of these actions to secure their phones (8% vs. 3%)

Mobile technology has given users the ability to conduct a wide range of tasks on the go. But this connectivity also has the potential to expose users to a number of cybersecurity threats. For example, experts note that network connections, such as those found at cafes or airports, could potentially put user data and information at risk. The Pew Research Center survey finds that 54% of internet users use public Wi-Fi networks, and many of these users are performing sensitive activities such online shopping (21%) or online banking (20%).

Topics: Technology Adoption, Internet Activities, Online Privacy and Safety, Emerging Technology Impacts, Mobile

  1. Photo of Monica Anderson

    is a research associate focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Kenneth Olmstead

    is a research associate focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous5 months ago

    VPNs are very good to partner with devices especially with smartphones when connecting to the internet. It helps prevent cybersecurity as it encrypts all users activities. But because there are many vpns today, you have to check out for the real vpns who keeps no logs at all. One of the best recommended vpn for security is this FrootVPN.

  2. Heather Pryde5 months ago

    This article hit the security nail on the head. There’s a growing large problem with older Android smartphones i.e. Samsung that never had factory released software patches or OS updates. This was by design to force Android users to continually upgrade to the next OS every few years. Much the same principle as Microsoft used to control the Windows market.

    Compare this with Apple’s iOS platform where updates were rolled out frequently and often patched older hardware.

    Android smartphones may be ubiquitous and cheaper than their iPhone cousins, but they come at a hefty price – much less security from hackers and three letter agency snoops.

  3. Anonymous5 months ago

    The article does not even attempt to understand why?
    Often enough updates will break functionality or features that were fine before the update.
    Another issue is the repeated overwriting of an individuals phone usage preferences.
    Lastly, The most connected device on the planet and people actually believe they have privacy from it.
    Facts: Has at least one camera, has a microphone, constantly connected to the internet, you didn’t personally write the software that drives it. Even with GPS off, peoples habits and other meta data can tell where you are. You go home, work, school, visit specific friends, use specific stores, most use credit cards. The tower you are connected to is within 3 miles, then your likely location by your habits tell the rest.
    Now, let me bring this back around a bit.
    Your battery will have a heavy battery drain if ANY of these occur.
    Camera is left running
    Microphone is constantly monitored (recorded)
    Frequently sending data.

    There are apps specifically designed to do some of these things and within a few hours the battery drain is very noticeable.

    I’m a strong proponent of privacy. Yet I am fully aware we have little and lose so much of it every day because others share their lives and accidentally expose yours.

  4. Fred Sagwe5 months ago

    Cool #DigCitSummitKE