How to secure your smart phone

Posted at 5:51 PM, May 01, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-01 18:44:35-04

If you store sensitive information on your smart phone, losing track of it could spell disaster. A just-released survey by Consumer Reports projects more than 7 million smart-phone owners had a phone that was lost, stolen, or ruined in the last year.

You can panic if someone steals your smart phone. Who knows what they could do with that information? There are pictures, bank cards, and e-mail. The Consumer Reports National Research Center finds that almost 40 percent of smart-phone users don’t take actions to secure their phones, such as backing up their data or simply setting a screen lock.

Even if you do lock, experts say a tech-savvy thief can quickly crack certain four-digit passcodes. Consumer Reports says far safer: setting a longer code that includes letters and symbols. Android phones let you do it by going to Settings, but then each phone is a little different.

With iPhones it’s even trickier. Under “Settings,” tap “General” and “Passcode lock.” Check that the “Simple passcode” is turned off. Then tap “Turn passcode on,” and you can enter your longer passcode.

Consumer Reports says there are other smart phone security risks. For example, some apps ask for permission to do too much, including a simple flashlight app. It wants to know your location and information about your phone calls. Consumer Reports found only one-third of those surveyed ever turn off location tracking. Some apps need to know your location to give directions, for example. But you don’t need to have location tracking on all the time.

Malicious software isn’t as common on your smart phone as on your computer. But the problem is growing, so Consumer Reports recommends getting your apps only from reputable sources. Android users should stick with Amazon’s Appstore or Google Play. For iPhone users, Apple’s App Store is the only source for apps, and it’s reputable, too.

Taking a few basic precautions can secure sensitive data. And kids need protection, too. The survey projects at least 5 million preteens have a smart phone of their own.

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