As the processing power of mobile phones continues to increase, so their use as a de facto communications and storage device gains more and more users. The end result is a society of connected individuals carrying around expensive hardware holding all of their most important data from contacts to document, music to movies and photos and games.
Losing the data – or the phone itself – can prove difficult to deal with, depending on how highly you rate the phone and what importance you place on the data stored therein. Having a backup plan in case of emergency is certainly recommended. But to have a plan of action, you need to know what the threats are. Fortunately there are competent, free solutions available on all four popular smartphone platforms.
Let’s be realistic – modern smartphones offer more threats to your personal safety than a computer.
Skilled hackers can use malware to scrape personal data off your phone, leaving you in debt when they take credit out in your name a few minutes later. With an always-on Internet connection in your pocket you might get an email from your bank informing you of the huge overdraft you didn’t apply for, but by then it will be too late.
Although such cases are currently rare, you obviously need to be aware of the possibilities and protect against these types of threat. The best answer here is to avoid visiting unsafe websites and installing untrustworthy apps from unofficial sources onto your phone, but if you absolutely must do this, make sure you protect yourself with some anti-malware software.
Lookout Security & Antivirus for Android phones is a suitable response, while iPhone and Windows Phone owners should ensure their devices are not unlocked or jailbroken. Concerns about transferring data to your phone from your computer can easily be addressed by installing anti-malware software for Windows or Mac OS X.
Both remote threats and those closer to home (such as having your phone stolen) can be partially addressed by encrypting data. Personal data stored on your phone can then only be accessed by the person with the encryption key – you. Should your device be hacked remotely or stolen it will prove next to impossible for the perpetrators to be able to read the data you have stored on your smartphone.
If you use iPhone 3GS or later, you will have the advantage of native encryption while the My Eyes Only – Secure Password Manager app is a popular choice for storing notes, passwords and credit card data.
BlackBerry also offers native encryption and you might choose to secure your data using an app such as iLocker Lite to lock specific software, preventing unauthorized access.
Windows Phone users meanwhile don’t have the advantage of native encryption but unlike Android handsets don’t have an (easily) removable MicroSD card. Hidden Pass is the most popular app for encrypting personal data on this platform.
Tracing A Stolen Phone
As we’ve already discussed, smartphones are increasingly popular targets for thieves who might be looking for personal data, a quick way to make a phone call or hardware that they can sell to support their chosen lifestyle.
Whether you have been able to protect the data on your phone or not, you should be prepared to trace the device in the event of loss or theft. This is something that can be achieved using native software or third party apps.
Android users can take advantage of the Plan B app which will email your phone’s location to your Gmail address when you use another device to text the word “locate”.
Apple iPhone’s Find My Phone tool will locate the device on a map and allow you to remotely play a ringtone, display a message, remotely lock and even wipe it. Windows Phone users have a similar option also called Find My Phone which offers the same functionality but is native to the platform.
BlackBerry doesn’t have a such a system, although lost devices can be wiped by your BES administrator.
Backing Up To The Cloud
If you have concerns over the safety of data on your phone you can store it online or at the very least save a backup to the cloud. This can then be accessed via a web browser from another device or computer, allowing you to at the very least keep your data if your phone is stolen.
Naturally Apple iPhones have access to the iCloud service which effortlessly backs up apps and data, while Windows Phone owners have SkyDrive. Meanwhile Android offers data synchronization with Google for standard data such as calendar, contacts and emails.
Dropbox apps are available free for all platforms, meanwhile, including BlackBerry.
With suitable responses in place to deal with any of these possibilities, you should find that in most cases you can overcome data loss and phone loss. There is even a chance that your device can be retrieved or returned to working order.
In the meantime, don’t leave anything to chance. Keep your phone safe at all times, use the apps suggested above to pre-empt any threats or misuse of your handset and remember to take insurance on the device. Your mobile phone network will be able to refer you to their favoured broker, although you should check if you have any suitable cover already via other insurance policies.
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