We are all growing more and more dependent on our smartphones to store our calendars, contacts, email, notes, travel plans, financial details and other highly personal information. In addition, we download apps for electronic banking, shopping, reading and other purposes. Many of these applications ask to access information stored on the phone or for its current location. All of which brings up a very important question: should we worry about the security of our personal information?
The answer for smartphones is the same for the rest of life: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Just as you protect your home or your PC from theft and intrusion, you should take prudent steps to protect your smartphone as well. With reasonable precautions, you can enjoy your smartphone and all of its power with minimal risk.
Here are some suggestions for keeping your smartphone and its contents safe:
- Keep the physical phone safe. The small size and portability of phones makes them easy to lose or steal.
- Keep your device software up to date. The provider of your phone’s operating system will quickly fix any known security vulnerabilities, but you may need to install or accept the update to receive the benefits.
- Set a password or PIN to lock your phone when not in use, and pick a password or PIN that is difficult to guess.
- Depending on the type of phone, install anti-virus software, such as Lookout for Android. Smartphones can become infected just like PC’s although so far this has occurred less frequently.
- Back up the data on your smartphone regularly, and enable a remote wipe capability in case your phone is permanently lost or stolen. Free tools are available such as Blackberry Protect and Find My iPhone.
- Be thoughtful about which applications you install. When considering a new app, read the reviews and consider the publisher. If the app has been available for some time, and is from a reputable developer with generally positive reviews, it is much more likely to be safe. This is particularly important for Android apps because Google does not review apps before they go into Android Market.
- Finally, understand what information an application will access before granting permission. You may or may not mind that a social app accesses your contacts for the purpose of finding friends, but you might not want the application to always track your specific location. If you are not comfortable with the requested permission, do not agree. With tens of thousands of apps available for each of the major platforms, you can find many enjoyable and safe apps that respect your desired level of privacy.
Note: If your company manages the security of your smartphone, consult with your IT department or help desk about their recommended security guidelines.
There are so many apps out there that entertain, amuse, inform and educate. With just a few precautions, there’s no reason that your apps can’t also keep you and your privacy as safe as possible.
Nancy Lyons Callahan is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP), a certification managed by the International Association of Privacy Professionals.