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How to keep your smartphone (and its data) secure

Daniel P. Dern | April 23, 2014
In our daily activities, our smartphones increasingly store or access sensitive business and personal data -- not just email, but also financial and medical information, company systems, travel itineraries, etc. Many of us also use smartphones to access cloud data repositories like Dropbox, Evernote, Google Docs, Microsoft OneDrive and Apple iCloud.

When your phone goes astray

So you've just gotten home from a long dinner with friends, and your smartphone is nowhere to be found. Did you leave it at the office? In the restaurant? In the cab? Or did somebody palm it while you weren't looking?

If your smartphone slips out of reach, you want to be able to do some remote control to either secure your data, try to get the phone returned, or both.

Android, iOS and Windows Phone now all include all remote find/lock/wipe features built-in for free:

 

  • iOS: iPhone and iPad owners can use Apple's iCloud-based Find My iPhone app from another iOS device or via any Web browser. The app tracks where your device is (and where it's been); you can also put it in Lost Mode (which locks the screen) and do a remote data erase.
  • Android: Google's Android Device Manager website lets users find the device, ring it (the device emits a loud noise so you can find it), remotely lock the device or erase the data.
  • Windows Phone: Microsoft's Find My Phone features can help users map the phone's location; there are separate instructions for Windows Phone 7 and Windows Phone 8. You can make the phone ring, lock the phone and show a message (with an email address or another way for a finder to contact you), or erase the data.
  • Most major security software packages offer mobile apps that will help users track and/or wipe their missing devices as well.

There are also a number of third-party apps that offer additional find/protect/recover features like remotely taking pictures (which may, with luck, let you see who is using the device or where it is) or locating it another way.

Prey Project can, when you trigger it via the Web dashboard, track your device (based on GPS/Wi-Fi geolocation), display a message on the screen, push an alert sound or take front/back photos with the device's cameras. The basic version is free; Pro versions start at $5/month and handle multiple devices, more reports and other advanced features. It is available for Windows, OS X, Linux, Android and iOS.

  • FinderCodes Electronics - Lost and Found Kit ($24.99) comes with seven tags that each have a QR code and printed code number (there's also an iOS app that lets you set the QR code as your lock screen wallpaper image). When someone finds your device and scans the tag (or hand-enters the code) with their smartphone, FinderCode lets you and that someone email/text anonymously to arrange a return. (You also see the GPS location of their phone, if they haven't disabled it.)
  • Cerberus Anti Theft (2.99 Euros) is an Android app that, through its website, lets you locate and track your device, receive alerts if somebody uses it with an unauthorized SIM card, wipe the phone, or record any audio coming from the microphone, among other features.
  • AndroidLost is a free app that also offers a long list of features, including recording sound from your Android device's microphone and making the phone speak to whomever is using it with text-to-speech.

 

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