How To Protect the Personal Info on Your Cell Phone -

How To Protect the Personal Info on Your Cell Phone

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Cell phones have quickly evolved from mobile phone-calling devices to mini-super computers that we carry around. And while we're careful to protect our personal computers, with passwords and anti-virus and anti-malware software, a lot of us aren't so careful with our smartphones.

"What's interesting is they're not even password-protecting their phone, which is the simplest thing you can do," says computer and cell phone security expert Theresa Payton. She was the White House chief information officer for President George W. Bush, the first woman to ever hold that position.

So that's the first thing you should do if you haven't already: put a strong password on your phone, she says. "And set the timer for 15 minutes or less. So that way if you leave it in a cab, you leave it at the grocery store, it will lock pretty quickly and you'll be the one who can call it and try and get it returned back to you," she says.

That's if you lose it. If your phone is stolen, calling the phone isn't likely to do any good. That's where the second step comes in.

Payton says, "The second thing that you want to do is ask your service provider what their provisions are for lost phones and if they have a feature called an auto-wipe feature, where literally, as soon as your phone is gone, that you could actually wipe all of your data off of your phone in the event it's never returned to you."

There are apps you can get for that. If you have an iPhone, it's called "Find my iPhone". 

If you have an Android phone, there's an app called "Android Lost".

Both apps allow you go locate your phone and, if it's stolen, you can remotely delete all the data off of it.

Shirley Mills of Columbia says the "Find my iPhone" app saved her recently when she lost her iPhone. First, the app told showed her on her iPad approximately where the phone was. It was nearby, so she started looking for it based on its location on the map. But then she saw that the phone was leaving her location and headed into what she called a "rough" neighborhood. Knowing that her phone was gone for good, the app then let her erase all the data on her phone, just by pushing a button.

"All of my personal information was on there, because we do so much online. My banking information," she says. "My whole world could've been in someone else's hands."

Besides password-protecting your phone and setting up a way to wipe its data if it's lost or stolen, Payton says you need to have anti-virus and anti-malware software on your phone.

"Cyber-criminals go where the action is," she says. "This year was the first year that laptop sales were lower than smartphone and tablet sales. So cyber-criminals are going to move away from that and move into the tablets and the smartphones and be attacking those."

She also recommends that you not keep any of your passwords in a file or folder on your smartphone. "People say, 'I'm in password overload, so I keep them all on my phone.' Well, if someone breaks into your phone, they now have all of the keys to your life," she says. And that means if you lose your phone or it's stolen, or even if a hacker gains access to your phone.

She also recommends starting a regular routine of backing up the information that's on your smartphone. You can do that on the cloud or by plugging your phone into a computer.

"So if your phone crashes, drops in a puddle, or gets stolen, you've got that data somewhere where you can easily get to it," she says.

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