The more we use our smartphones and the more personal and sensitive data we keep on them you'd think the greater target they are for thieves and hackers, right? Well, the fact is that mobile phones are already the number one target for thieves at the very least. Your new phone could be valuable and while it could be blocked by networks in your own country, that's not to stop the handset being sent abroad and used in a country where such blocking doesn't exist.
But surely you don't keep any sensitive information on your phone unless people really are interested in text messages from a loved one or emails from Groupon? Here you'd be wrong again. In this article I want to have a look through the different types of important information you keep on your smartphone, and look at ways you can keep it safe and secure.
You might not keep really sensitive details about yourself on your phones such as your Social Security number or bank details, but you do keep ever growing details about all your contacts. These include their full names, address, email address and multiple phone numbers and, crucially information such their full date of birth (which is used in faking IDs and gaining access to accounts) and possibly family connections that are possibly giving up details such as their mother's maiden name. In short you are being entrusted with a huge amount of information on a huge number of people, all of which can be used for identity theft.
It might not be possible for someone to discover your email password or to change it from your handset, though a good hacker might still find a way, but depending on what emails you store locally in your inbox they might reveal all manner of additional detail about you perhaps including at least partial credit card details if you've been shopping online.
More and more of us are keeping documents on our phones and with the inclusion of support for services such as Windows Live SkyDrive in Windows Phone, it's becoming far easier to not know what important and sensitive documents you actually can access from your phone, maybe without even knowing the functionality is already there and switched on. If you use DropBox on your phone for instance what documents are you storing in the cloud that can be easily and instantly accessed by someone who has physical access to your phone?
As more and more of us use smartphones as GPS devices, what locations have you got stored in your phone? Do you, for example have "Home" listed as a location? If you do a thief could be directed straight to your home at the time when they know, if they've just stolen the handset, that you're out.
The most basic and simple way to lock your phone is to put a passcode on it, be this a physical numerical code or a swipe pattern. Make it a good one though, definitely not an obvious pattern or the same code as you use for the PIN number on your bank card. Having a code or pattern that's a bit harder to do might be a little more inconvenient for you, but it comes with a great deal more peace of mind.
The phone's unique identifier code, it's 15 digit IMEI number can usually be found close to the SIM card slot and battery compartment in a phone. Write down this IMEI number and keep it in a safe place at home in case you need to cancel the phone, it will make things quicker, or more important to report the phone as lost or stolen to the police. Having the IMEI number will help make sure the handset can be quickly returned to you if it is found. You can check the IMEI number on the phone itself by typing *#06# on the keypad.
An ICE (In Case of Emergency) number can quite possibly save your life if you are involved in an accident or incapacitated and the emergency services can't unlock your phone to call a relative or friend. Unfortunately modern smartphones still don't include support for ICE numbers but if you manually edit in a graphics package onto the image you use for your lock screen, it can be a great help in having your phone returned to you if it is found.
Malware and viruses on smartphones are becoming ever more common and regardless of how secure the platform might be, or how much vetting all the apps might go through, there's no guarantee that malware won't slip through the net. Check the reviews online to see if the anti-malware software you're buying is actually any good and preferably go for one of the big name companies such as AVG or Kaspersky for added peace of mind.
Some smartphone platforms, including Windows Phone, come with a remote management service you can access online. These services can allow you to remotely lock the phone, track it (even when locked) or even wipe it altogether and perform a hard reset if you suspect it is gone for good. These services are accessed through any web browser and if your smartphone comes with such a service it is well worth signing up for it.
So what are your additional tips for keeping your smartphone, and its sensitive data safe and secure? Write them in the comments here as we'd love to hear them.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.