We love our smartphones. Whether it’s a Droid, iPhone, Blackberry, or some 3G or 4G Frankenphone our geeky friend gave us to “test”, we just can’t get enough of the technology; plugging in, updating our Facebook status, checking our email, listening to our streaming music from a playlist shared online, wherever we are, whenever we want. We can book a flight, hotel and rental car while we are having lunch at Papa Roux’s (that family-owned Cajun restaurant we found on some esoteric “app” we downloaded from “the Market” or “iStore” to let us know about the best local culture we’d never heard of,) or go to the faltering Borders down the block and see what they have on sale, scan the barcode of something we like, and have Amazon.com send it to our doorstep by priority mail at 1/3 the price. Seriously, smartphones have changed our lives. Most of us have no idea what we ever did without them.
But 3G and 4G technology opens us up to a new world of identity theft, as well. Our iPhone may or may not store credit card information directly, but all the sites we surf to on it automatically log us in (as a consumer convenience, of course) where our card information is stored. Our Droid is connected directly to our Facebook account and merges data from multiple sources into a single contact list. Our Blackberry automatically accesses our email at work as well as home, keeping us productive and in touch with our personal lives at the same time, but what information comes through the email that we would rather not see fall into the wrong hands?
The Identity Theft Resource Center has come up with a “Fact Sheet" that gives some great advice on protecting your smartphone if it’s lost or stolen. Their advice is pretty simple: protect it as soon as you get it, protect it when you’re using it, and protect it against the possibility of an identity thief getting a hold on it.
Your guide has only used the Droid and Blackberry in the past. (Well, there was a brief stint with a Palm – but I was young and naïve and learned better pretty quickly.) But all of these, as well as iPhone, have anti-virus software you can install to protect against programs designed for phishing. It’s as important to have this on your 3G or 4G phone as it is on your computer. In fact, the protection practices ITRC suggests are the exact same things your computer geek will suggest for your PC or laptop.
Putting a password on our smartphone is without a doubt the most important thing that we never do. It’s not just a matter of protecting the people we know from getting calls from stalky creepers, either. Sure, it means we’ll have to put the password in every time we want to use the phone or whatever, but there are settings for each phone that can make things easier. For example, my Droid wants me to “connect the dots” before it will play with me, using a pattern I taught it when I turned the feature on (a couple of weeks ago when I realized I was just as bad as everyone else by not locking my phone up.) There are settings particular to each phone manufacturer to make things easier – how long it takes the screen to require a password, voice recognition, and so on. Be safe; use your built-in security features.
There are also programs you can get from your iStore or Android Market that will help you track where your phone is at all times, back up your phone’s data to a computer or web server, or even delete everything off your phone if the password is put in wrong too many times. The program on my phone can be accessed from any computer on the internet, set off the alarm on my phone (so I can find it when my fiancée hides it from me) or even allow me to “wipe” the whole thing clean if I don’t think I can get it back. Now, I’ve never had to try the “wipe” feature, but with the background in IT, I have reservations about trusting that sort of feature. Most computer storage can be recovered if you have the right software and know what you’re looking for. With today’s sophisticated identity thieves, I wouldn’t put it past them to be aware of ways to recover information that had been “wiped” from a cell phone.
So, go ahead and geek out with your smartphone: make your Droid dance, take your iPhone everywhere it suggests, take a trip to planet Blackberry, whatever. But do it safely, and make sure to protect yourself against the eventuality. And if you ever do lose your smartphone, treat it like a zombie stole your wallet.