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Four tips on keeping your smartphone secure

May 1st, 2013

mobilephonesA smart phone can contain a lot of information that its owner would rather keep private. But 39 percent of the more than 100 million American adult smart phone owners fail to take even minimal security measures, such as using a screen-lock, backing up data, or installing an app to locate a missing phone or remotely wipe its data, according to Consumer Reports’ Annual State of the Net survey.

At least 7.1 million smart phones were irreparably damaged, lost, or stolen and not recovered last year, Consumer Reports projects. Yet 69 percent of smart phone users hadn’t backed up their data, including photos and contacts. Just 22 percent had installed software that could locate their lost phone.

“When you take your smart phone into your confidence, so to speak, you’re also taking in a host of parties, including app developers, your wireless carrier and phone manufacturer, mobile advertisers, and the maker of your phone’s operating system,” said Jeff Fox , Technology Editor, Consumer Reports.

Take basic precautions

“We recommend that all smart phone users take the basic precautions we outline in this report to ensure that their phones are secure from wireless threats.”

The full report can be found in the June 2013 issue of Consumer Reports and online at ConsumerReports.org.

The report revealed that though most smart-phone users haven’t suffered serious losses because of their phone, there are wireless threats that merit concern.

Among them: malicious software. Last year, 5.6 million smart-phone users experienced undesired behavior on their phones such as the sending of unauthorized text messages or the accessing of accounts without their permission, CR projects. Those symptoms are indicative of the presence of malicious software.

Location tracking can lead to trouble

The location tracking feature that all smart phones have can also leave users vulnerable to wireless threats. One percent of smart phone users told Consumer Reports that they or a person in their household had been harassed or harmed after someone used such location tracking to pinpoint their phone.

CR also projects that at least 5.1 million preteens use their own smart phones. In doing so, they may unwittingly disclose personal information or risk their safety.

A smart phone can be quite secure if users take a few basic precautions, Consumer Reports found. Those precautions include:

  • Using a strong pass code. A four-digit one, which 23 percent of users told CR that they used, is better than nothing. But on  Android  phones  and  iPhones  earlier  than  the iPhone 5, a thief using the right software can crack such a code in 20 minutes, according to Charlie Miller , security engineer for Twitter. A longer code that includes letters and symbols is far stronger.
  • Install apps cautiously. Malicious apps may not lurk around every corner, but they’re out there and can be tricky to spot. For example, CR projects that 1.6 million users had been fooled into installing what seemed to be a well-known brand-name app but was actually a malicious imposter.
  • Be alert to insecure Wi-Fi. A projected 13 million users engaged in financial transactions at hot spots in hotels, retail stores, and airports last year. Before using any app to do business at a hot spot, users should check the app’s privacy policy to see whether it secures wireless transmissions of such data. Otherwise, they may disclose sensitive information to a nearby criminal.
  • Turn off location tracking. Disable it except when it’s needed, such as for driving directions. Only one in three smart phone owners surveyed by CR had turned it off at times during the previous year.

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