Those free apps you innocently download on your phone can actually come at a serious price - your personal data and privacy, according to a cybersecurity expert who offers free tips on how to secure your phone.

SnoopWall, a cybersecurity firm led by a founding member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, found that all of the top 10 most popular flashlight apps required user permission to access sensitive data and could actually control and change phone settings.

We recently reported that many free flashlight apps that are so popular may be spying on users and stealing their data.

This issue is, unfortunately, not limited to flashlight apps. Some of the major advertising networks deploy spyware, and, according to SnoopWall, "Free apps use these networks to monetize their businesses and some are developed by professional cyber criminals, enemy nation states for spying, or by hackers for malicious reasons."

The company has offered five tips for protecting your smartphone. First, they recommend checking the permissions requested by an app prior to downloading it. If there seems to be no logical reason why the app would need access to certain settings or user data, users should be suspicious and look for less risky and invasive alternatives. Of course, some apps, such as those which provide local weather or restaurant recommendations, have a valid reason to request access to location information via GPS, for example, but to be even safer, you can usually disable this permission and enter your location manually.

In fact, Snoopwall recommends disabling the GPS in your phone unless you are expressly using it for navigation purposes, or in an emergency where you need to be geolocated. You should also disable NFC, which is used for sharing information with other devices within close range. NFC is not secure and can be hacked, so if your phone supports it, disable it in your settings.

The firm also suggests that you disable Bluetooth unless you are making a hands-free call, since "Bluetooth is an easily hacked protocol and folks can eavesdrop on communications over Bluetooth; broadcast into your earpiece...access your contacts list and hack your smartphone device over Bluetooth." If you are making a hands-free call, or listening to music on Bluetooth-enabled speakers or headphones, be sure to turn off Bluetooth when you're finished.

Finally, the company suggests taping over the microphone or webcam camera on your phone, or removing the battery when not in use, to protect against eavesdropping via camera or microphone. While this may be going a bit far for some, the other simple tips are sure to give most users the added protection they need.

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