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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

Time to get smart about smartphones

There was a time when leaving your phone somewhere or losing it altogether would be just a mild irritation. Eventually you would track it down or replace it, and no-one would miss a beat.

Not these days. If you own a smartphone, it’s likely to contain a huge amount of sensitive information: personal and business e-mails, access to your Facebook and other social media accounts, mobile banking apps, and even financial documents and spreadsheets. And that doesn’t include the hundreds of texts and photos, and your entire address book.

And it doesn’t stop there. Smartphones are increasingly used by banks and other businesses as an authentication tool. If you forget a password, try to process a transaction, or make a change to an account, businesses will often send a pin number or a confirmation code to your smartphone via text.

Because of the amount of sensitive data they contain, smartphones have become the latest frontier for identity theft and other forms of cyber crime. For today’s hackers, having access to your smartphone is as good as having access to your PC. Misplacing or losing a smartphone is no longer just an irritation; it’s a potential security crisis.

But there are a number of things you can do to minimize the risks if your smartphone is lost or stolen:

  • Make sure your screen automatically locks after a short period of inactivity. Adjust the settings so a pin number or password is required to unlock the screen.
  • Install and enable remote security services. All the major operating systems offer security tools – lock, wipe, GPS locator – that can be activated remotely if the smartphone is lost.
  • Regularly back-up essential data. Make sure all your documents and even your photos are stored elsewhere, and can easily be recovered in the event of a loss.
  • Install updates whenever they are available. Security flaws are discovered in mobile apps every day. Make sure you download updates for your sensitive apps as soon as they are available.
  • If possible, avoid connecting to open Wi-Fi services. Log in or other information provided over an open Wi-Fi network can be visible to others. Plus, smartphones will often use any available Wi-Fi network to access e-mail or sync data. Turn off your Wi-Fi connection whenever it’s not needed.
  • Make sure you only transmit data to secure web sites. The same security rules that you observe when using your home PC should also apply to your smartphone.

Anti-virus and security software for mobile devices are in the early stages of development, so extra vigilance is required. Don’t assume that your smartphone is more secure than your PC at home. The opposite is usually the case.

Do you have other tips for smartphone security? Share them with The Online Mom!

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