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Smart About Smartphones: Protect Your Data

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You wouldn’t leave your wallet lying around in a public place, right? Be just as diligent with your Smartphone. Here’s how to protect yourself from losing your data or being the victim of a crime through your mobile phone.

Use Passwords, Locks, and More
Always password-protect your mobile device, use the auto-lock security feature, and activate the encryption feature (if it’s built into your Smartphone), advises USAA security analyst Richard Davey.

Many phones can be set so the phone automatically deletes all the information on the device if the wrong password is input too many times in a row. Don’t worry—you should be able to retrieve your data from your computer if you’ve been synchronizing the two devices.

When creating a password, choose one that’s easy for you to remember but will be difficult for others to guess. And make sure your auto-lock feature is turned on so it will kick in after a minute or two. That helps ensure no one will be able to use the phone without knowing your password. Also, don’t share your password with anyone or tape it to your phone.

While encryption offers some protection for your mobile data and may prevent unauthorized access, many mobile devices don’t include this feature in their operating systems. Look in the owner’s manual to see if your phone has encryption and make sure the feature is included when you purchase a new phone.

To encourage the return of a lost handset, consider writing or engraving your name and contact information—but not your password—on its back with the promise of a reward. Several applications exist for cell phones that let you offer a reward for the return of a lost phone.

Back It Up
You should keep only the information you think you’ll need immediate and frequent access to in your mobile device, Davey says. Remember, syncing your cell phone to Outlook or another email application will often automatically synchronize any notes you have in your contacts database, so pay special attention to what you have scribbled in those fields. Take special care not to store user names and passwords in these note fields, says Michael Bueche, lead technical architect for USAA’s mobile technology programs.

Also make sure you have a separate record of the data, including all account numbers, passwords, phone numbers, addresses, and any other sensitive information, as well as the phone’s make, model, and serial number. Then, if your phone is lost or stolen and you want to change your passwords quickly, you’ll have the information you need at your fingertips.

Beware the Jailbreak
It’s becoming a trend among iPhone users to unlock, or jailbreak, their phones so they can install applications Apple hasn’t approved for the phone or use the phone on a network other than AT&T. These practices can open up your phone to substantial corruptions, such as viruses or Internet scams, without your knowledge, says Bueche. The only way to remove these harmful software threats, known as malware, is to wipe the phone’s memory completely and revert it to its original factory status.

Just because your iPhone isn’t jail broken doesn’t mean you’re immune to risk. Apple says it rejects more than 100 spyware-infested or phishing-laden applications every day. As hackers get more sophisticated with these devices, the possibility of more malware increases. Mobile phishing apps—phony versions of real applications designed to separate you from your personal information—are also on the rise. An example recently hit close to home when USAA recently thwarted a phony USAA app for Android.

Handle with Care
If your mobile device is lost or stolen:

  • Call your provider to report the theft
  • File a police report (if you know it’s been stolen)
  • Place fraud alerts on your credit reports
  • Notify anyone whose contact or other information is stored in the phone

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