Monday, December 2, 2013

10 defenses against smartphone theft

Thieves see mobile phones as easy cash. Take these 10 steps to defend yourself

10) Use security applications

Android phones and iPhones both come with security software. But that doesn't mean the software is active, or that third-party software might not help even more. If you have an Android phone, make sure you're using Android Device Manager or a third-party security software such as Lookout Security & Antivirus. If you have an iPhone, make sure Find My iPhone has been set up and activated.

9) Use a strong password

Too many people just give up when it comes to passwords, access codes, and PINs. They pick something such as "password" or "qwerty" or "1234." Raise the level of your game: Come up with a functional password generation recipe, then apply it to your devices and websites. You don't need a password manager. This is not rocket science.

8) Keep phone data handy

Write down your phone model number, serial number, and International Mobile Equipment Identifier (IMEI). If your phone gets stolen, you'll want these numbers (along with your mobile carrier's support phone number) to help your carrier place your IMEI number on the GSMA IMEI blacklist. You can find your IMEI number in most phone settings menus by dialing *#06#, or by checking the battery compartment, if accessible.

7) Be aware of your surroundings

We've all seen them. People who meander down the sidewalk, staring at their phones, forcing others to take evasive action to avoid a collision. People chatting on phones oblivious to those nearby. People who set their phones down on cafe tables or on public transit seats. People who let their phones dangle from purse or pocket. Don't be one of these people.

6) React quickly if your phone is stolen

Report the theft to the local police. This will allow police to check websites that might be trying to unload your stolen phone and will provide you with a police report in case you want to make an insurance claim. Report the theft to your mobile carrier, so your phone service can be suspended and the phone's identifier can be blacklisted. Activate any applicable security software such as Find My iPhone or Lookout. You might also want to change your phone and app passwords, in case the thief was able to login and access some of the services you use through stored passwords. If you're really lucky, your phone's security software will help you recover your device.

5) Choose your phone to match your security expertise

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt recently insisted that Android phones are more secure than Apple's iPhone. That might be true if you're talking about recent-model Android phones with the Android 4.4 "KitKat" operating system. But security experts scoff at Schmidt's claim. The reality is that the majority of mobile malware affects Android devices.

In August, the FBI and DHS issued a report that found 79 percent of mobile malware affected Android devices, 19 percent affected Symbian devices, and less than 1 percent affected BlackBerry, iOS, or Windows Phone devices. Android's troubles largely arise from the fact that as many as 44 percent of Android users worldwide rely on Android versions 2.3.3 to 2.3.7, which have known vulnerabilities.

So although it's possible to run Android securely, it requires more diligence. Choose BlackBerry, iOS, or Windows Phone if you don't want to be proactive about security. Choose Android if you require the flexibility of a more-open ecosystem and are comfortable with the responsibility.

4) Choose your WiFi network carefully

Just because a WiFi network is visible and accessible doesn't mean it's safe. Use secure WiFi networks when possible. When there's no other option, avoid doing anything that involves authentication if you can. You never know who might be listening or intercepting unprotected network traffic.

3) Choose your apps and websites carefully

User behavior represents a major source of insecurity. If you can avoid downloading sketchy apps and visiting suspect websites, you will reduce your chances of acquiring malware. Security firm Trend Micro says it has analyzed 3.7 million Android apps and updates, and found 18 percent to be malicious, with an additional 13 percent categorized as high risk. Almost half of the malicious apps (46 percent) were acquired from Google Play, the company says.

2) Don't buy phone insurance

If the mobile carriers really are fighting pre-installed security software to sustain revenue from insurance premiums, you can fight back by refusing to participate. Carrying your expensive smartphone without an insurance net should also encourage you to guard your phone more carefully. Of course, you'll be wishing you had insurance when your phone slips from your pocket and fracture lines spread across the touchscreen.

1) Leave your phone at home

It's easier said than done. But you can't lose what you don't have. Shocking though it may be, people used to get by without mobile phones. Try it once in while, if only to highlight your device addiction.

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