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In July of 2020, the National Security Agency published their Mobile Device Best Practices, a guide that “outlines the steps the users can take to better protect personal devices and information.” In that document, they suggest that certain types of malware could be thwarted simply by restarting our devices on a weekly basis.

The suggestion comes as more sophisticated attacks attempt to pry away our personal data. Our phones know and store a lot of information about our lives, which makes it more important than ever to keep it secure. Restarting our phones isn’t a perfect solution for all attacks but it can be helpful, the NSA says, in stopping some spearphishing attacks and some zero-click exploits.

What does restarting your device do to help secure your phone?

More and more, security researchers are finding that malware attacks work less like an app and more like a webpage. You don’t necessarily need to download a “bad” app–malware–to end up “hacked.” Instead, attacks that target your personal information can be malicious code that is run by the phone after you visit a link from an email, a less-than-reputable website, or even just because you have a particular “good” app installed on your phone. Hackers often find vulnerabilities in software that you should be able to trust, such as Whatsapp, and exploit them without the company’s (or users’) knowledge.

While restarting your device can’t always stop a determined attacker from accessing your data, it can potentially stop hackers by 1) refreshing your phone’s operating system and erasing some changes made to it by normal use, and 2) clearing non-file malware from your device’s RAM (temporary storage). The files that your operating system uses to do normal, everyday tasks can change over time, and restarting the device helps clear out those changes. Some viruses and malware cannot survive a reboot because they change network settings that are reset when the device is restarted; others cannot survive a reboot because they don’t exist as a file on the hard drive, and then disappear when the phone’s RAM is powered down for a minute or so.

How can I remember to restart my phone every week?

It may be difficult to remember to turn off and turn on your phone once a week. However, it could be a great opportunity to schedule a break from work in the evening or on the weekend. If you can’t see yourself living without your phone for a few minutes each week, it may be simpler to schedule a reset in the device’s settings. For the past few years, a restart scheduler has been available in most Android and iOS devices. On newer Samsung Android devices, for example, you can find it by searching in Settings for “Auto restart.” This setting allows you to schedule a restart for any day of the week at a time of your choosing. The phone will check to make sure you aren’t using it when it restarts.

-Written by Derek Jeppsen on Behalf of Sean Goss and the Crown Computers Team