It’s estimated that three quarters of Kiwis now own a smartphone – a powerful mini computer that allows them to stay connected to their online lives 24/7.

Being small and attractive to thieves, the risk of physical loss is quite high. In NetSafe’s 2014 Smartphone Security Report, more than 1 in 4 Kiwis admitted to losing a mobile phone.

Smartphones and tablets should also be considered computing devices that need protecting against new forms of ransomware and mobile malware – malicious software – and can open you up to phishing and SMiShing attacks more commonly encountered on home computers.

We’ve put together the following 12 tips for protecting your device against digital dangers

1: Lock your smartphone or tablet

Use a pin, password, complex swipe or other option to restrict access to your phone should it be lost or stolen.

Whilst there may still be ways for persistent attackers to gain access to your device, taking steps to prevent casual use is essential and helps secure the contents of your phone – especially your photos and contacts – from prying eyes. Check settings to enable automatic screen locking after several minutes of non-use.

2: Investigate security software that lets you find, lock, wipe or disable your device

Many popular smartphones come with easy options to help you locate your device, flash up a message on screen to anyone finding it or to activate a loud noise to aid recovery or deter a thief. This may be part of the operating system or available as a stand alone app or bundled with an anti-virus security suite.

3: Consider installing anti-virus software

Smartphone operating systems are constantly being improved with steps taken to patch security holes as they are made public. Although the majority of malware or malicious software remains focused on desktop computers, the majority of mobile malware is targeted at Android devices and an anti-virus package is another line in your defence.

New computer security threats are being developed every day and mobile malware continues to be highlighted as an emerging risk. Read independent reviews of Android anti-virus software.

4: Keep your operating system up to date
How easy this task is depends on your chosen device but NetSafe encourages smartphone owners to actively apply operating system updates when made available.

Newer versions of device software tend to be more secure, patching known security vulnerabilities and your smartphone is a computer that also needs protecting.

5: Be cautious about what apps you install

Stick with the official marketplaces to avoid installing malicious software and be cautious about what permissions are requested during the installation process. Does that free game really need to be able to read or send text messages or access your camera?

Many mobile malware threats are developed and most active in China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine but security companies have reported malware being detected in more than 50 countries to date.

6: Jailbreak at your own risk

There may be some benefits to trying out a new operating system for your smartphone but dumping the manufacturer’s system can also expose you to increased risk. Make sure you fully understand what the process involves and any additional security features that may be required to avoid malware threats.

7: Backup your device and the data stored on it

Imagine the downside to losing your phone and with it your full list of contacts or photos from a recent trip. Try to keep a clean device by routinely removing data that doesn’t need to be kept on your phone just in case you lose it or someone gets access to your collection of risky selfies.

8: Consider the risks of using free Wi-Fi

The potential for having your emails, banking transactions or purchases intercepted may seem small but NetSafe encourages smartphone owners to stick with trusted data connections or your home Wi-Fi for sensitive activities. Investigate Virtual Private Network (VPN) security apps if you really need to connect to open hotspots.

9: Don’t click on links or open attachments you weren’t expecting

Text spam continues to be an issue for mobile owners so avoid responding to lottery or competition messages or clicking on links they include to strange looking websites. You can forward spam texts to 7726 where the Department of Internal Affairs monitors spam arriving from around the world.

If you can read your personal or business emails on your phone, be alert to standard phishing messages that are often more successful at sucking in victims due to the small screen size and the sense of urgency they can create by triggering a notification.

10: Be wary of sharing your smartphone with others

Kids love to play games and a loaded smartphone can be a handy babysitting option for bored children in a restaurant or social setting. Be aware though that it doesn’t take much for someone borrowing your phone to accidentally post a rogue tweet to a work social media account or to send an SMS or email to your business contacts.Investigate ways to lock down what apps or functions can be used or simply keep the device for work use only.

11: Be alert to your smartphone behaving oddly

Check your bills regularly to see if text messages – especially to premium rate or overseas numbers – are being sent without you noticing. Similarly, high data usage may signify a problem with your phone or an app you have installed.

If the battery is draining rapidly this could be a sign that other apps or processes are operating in the background so check to see what is running on the device.

12: Securely erase personal information before reselling or recycling

If you’re thinking of selling or recycling your smartphone before upgrading, think carefully about the data stored on the phone and delete all apps and related data before wiping or securely erasing personal information.

iPhone owners can use Apple’s factory reset to perform this task, Android and Windows Phone owners can use similar options or install Blancco Mobile Edition on a PC to thoroughly delete data.