There are many things you can buy to try to improve your security, but there is one thing you can do for absolutely free. Install less stuff!
Whether you use a smartphone or a desktop computer, here’s how filling your devices with fewer apps can help protect your data.
1. You have a smaller attack area
When you first set up your device, there’s a good chance that the company has gone to great lengths to keep it secure. Companies like these may violate your privacy by tracking what you do with your device or where you take it, but they really don’t want anyone else to access your machine without your permission.
Out of the box, the only apps an attacker can target are the ones that come pre-installed on your machine. Keeping up to date can be a daunting task. But once you install more apps, it opens more potential doors for your device. An exploit that only targets Microsoft Outlook or Adobe Acrobat Reader won’t affect you if you’ve never installed either of those programs.
Viruses or malware may also look for specific programs to target. Of course, you can use a virus scanner to increase your protection, but you can be even safer by never installing these programs on your computer if you don’t need them.
2. You are exposed to less tracking
A smartphone is a mobile tracking device. Let’s take a look at Android as it is the most popular mobile operating system. If you buy a new phone and give Google access to everything the company asks for during the setup process, Google can learn a lot about you.
When you open an app store, you open a gate. Much (if not most) of the software in the Play Store tries to track you in some way. Many require you to create an account. Others have ad networks. Many collect information about you and sell it to others. You may have started with just sharing data with Google and your phone company, but this can quickly expand to include dozens of other organizations. Maybe even hundreds.
You can use Android privately, but the vast majority of phones aren’t configured that way. Making such a transition requires a certain awareness of the problem and a desire to do without most well-known programs.
iPhones are more private out of the box, but that privacy disappears once you start filling your phone with apps. The iOS version of Facebook may collect less data than the Android version, but you’re still giving Facebook a lot of information about you every time you use the service.
3. Fewer accounts to be hacked
Today, it’s not the code that runs on our devices that puts us at the greatest risk. This is code on other people’s machines. A data breach could lead to millions of us getting our credit card numbers online. Stolen passwords can give someone access to cloud storage accounts where they can view our most intimate photos and documents.
If you don’t use cloud storage, then someone can’t access the data in your cloud storage account. It’s that simple. If you’re not on Facebook or Twitter, no one can manipulate you there. If you’re not looking for social media or online dating services, you’re less likely to have someone sneak into your heart to steal your money.
Games are no exception here. Game accounts can still leave your email address, passwords, and credit card information up for grabs. Some people are willing to look for other people’s accounts on the Internet, wherever they find them.
4. Less software to keep up to date
Attackers can use software vulnerabilities to gain access to your computer. Software developers don’t know ahead of time all the ways their programs are vulnerable, but they often release updates with security patches when vulnerabilities are discovered.
When you install more programs, you increase the chance of installing vulnerable software. Every new app is another app that needs to be constantly updated to reduce risk.
Some programs may have vulnerabilities that cannot be fixed. Then you’re stuck with a program that you may like or depend on, but you have to take a constant risk to use.
5. Reducing the risk of installing malicious software
If you’re in the habit of installing a bunch of apps, you might be inclined to pay less attention to each app. You don’t know what files each program leaves in the corner of your machine that you never see. And you can install malware disguised as something completely harmless.
You won’t know right away that you’ve installed malware. Consider mobile photo editors that silently scan your phone for personal information about you. These apps are scams in a sense, but they are also legitimate photo editing apps. They can keep their promises; they just came with the intention of sucking your data.
Other software can turn your PC into a cryptomining rig. Then you suffer from reduced performance and potentially higher electricity bills… without getting any cryptocurrency yourself!
In rare cases, the server that distributes the app update can be compromised, providing a malicious version of the app as a false update. These fake updates can install ransomware that locks your screen and prevents you from accessing your computer, encrypts your files for ransom, or exploits you in any number of ways.
A minimalist approach will help you stay safe
You may have already heard a bunch of tips on how to improve your digital security. Install an antivirus program. Use a free and open source web browser such as Mozilla Firefox. Protect your network traffic with a VPN. Switch to an encrypted email service provider and use an encrypted messenger.
But what you choose not to use can also quickly increase your security online and off.