When Does an Old Smartphone Become Unsafe to Use?
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It’s much more reasonable nowadays, financially at least, to keep a smartphone for as long as possible. There aren’t that many big changes between the different generations of phones of the last couple of years. Plus, replacing a phone every two years is expensive thanks to how much manufacturer’s jack up the prices on their latest flagship models.

Problem is, there’s plenty of evidence out there which proves that keeping a phone for an extended period of time is unsafe. The issue doesn’t lie with the physical age of the phone, as that relates more to convenience. Instead, safety issues arise when the phone is old enough to no longer receive security updates.

Unfortunately, Android phones do pull behind in the race here as they tend to stop receiving updates sooner than iPhones. There are multiple reasons for this as will be discussed below, but the end result is the same. 

Why Are Updates So Important?

Old smartphones become dangerous because hackers focus on targeting software flaws and security holes. Which become more prominent as soon as a phone starts receiving fewer updates or none at all.

The reason updates are so vital is because they contain important security patches. These patches fix known vulnerabilities that hackers will exploit to gain access to the phone. 

Late updates put the phone at risk for as long as they don’t have that issue fixed. While updates that never arrive mean the phone is like a ticking time bomb for the exploitation of any sensitive data it contains.

For How Long is an iPhone Safe to Use?

Apple has been pretty good about keeping their updates rolling out successively to their iPhones and iPads. They keep supporting a device up until 5 years after it’s release. The result being that iPhone owners can count on knowing when their device will stop receiving updates.

For instance, take the iPhone 5s released in 2013. It is scheduled to keep receiving updates until September 2019 – a total of five years. Which is a considerable amount of time to keep supporting a device, when many consumers opt to replace their model after two or three years. This quality makes owning an Apple device a straightforward experience with a solid guarantee of support for a set period of time.

The main perk here, on Apple’s side, is that they have a closed circuit of manufacturing and supply. The device that’s assembled in the factory is the same one that lands in a user’s hands with no changes made along the way. This allows them to push out updates without worrying about compatibility issues.

It also means that it’s easy for iPhone users to keep their devices safe and up to date. Most updates roll around automatically anyway, but there could be an unexpected downside to them too. In 2017, Apple admitted to slowing older phones down via updates, which sparked a lot of outrage. However, they gave a statement saying that they did this to counteract the problems caused by older batteries. 

So it’s essentially a trade-off in this case. Get updates to stay protected but lose some functionality along the way. This doesn’t mean iPhone users shouldn’t update their OS, though. Apple products are seen as more secure than Android, but they aren’t infallible.

For How Long is an Android Phone Safe to Use?

Android products differ significantly from Apple ones because they have a wider range of manufacturers. Google, the creator behind the Android OS, also allows manufacturers and carriers to change the UI and load their own “bloatware” onto smartphones. Which means that two Android phones can differ greatly from each other. Even though they share the same operating system.

All of that makes it pretty hard to determine just how long an Android phone will keep receiving updates. It could be years or just a few months since it’s not just up to Google. Plus, some manufacturers and carriers don’t put in the effort to keep their devices up to date. Especially the budget models.

The only Android users who can be assured of timely updates are those who own Google’s own brand of phones. But even then the updates only keep coming for about 2-3 years before Google moves on. They also recently changed their contract with Android partners, which requires them to provide updates for two years. For the popular models, at least.

Take Steps To Keep Old Phones Safe

First and foremost, it’s important to have updates installed as soon as they’re released. This counts for third-party apps as well, as most developers periodically release updates for their software.

Those who wish to keep their phones a little longer than the recommended time should also make sure to install additional security software. These can bump up the layers of security they have on their phone. Tools like password managers, two-factor authentication, and anti-malware apps can help expand the lifespan of an old phone.

Something that protects the internet connection of an old phone, like a VPN, could also be a huge benefit here. Hackers use various ways of infiltrating a smartphone, but all of them make use of the phone’s connection. So keeping that connection safe with a VPN could go a long way (get one here). 

Similarly, two-factor authentication is just as important because passwords can be stolen. If the phone is new enough to have biometrics like fingerprint authentication, then that’s the safest option to go for.

And finally, being aware of the signs of a compromised device is vital to stopping hackers from doing excessive damage.

Final Thoughts

Older phones are tricky because there’s technically nothing wrong with them on the surface. The hardware and even the user experience might keep up with the times and satisfy the needs of their owners. 

However, lurking in the depths of that phone is a trojan horse in the form of outdated software, which could open the phone’s user up to exploitation from malicious individuals who want to invade their privacy.

It’s vital that smartphone owners are aware of the longevity of their operating system. They should also implement a few security tools to make sure their phone stays safe for longer.

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