After a short, frantic search with no results, the dreaded thought enters the mind: "What if I lost it?"
Because of the small size and portability of these devices, they are easily misplaced.
Their size sometimes makes it easy to forget the huge treasure trove of information these smart devices contain. Text messages from friends, work email accounts, pictures of loved one, apps to access bank accounts and social media, location history, and more.
If you lost your smart device, how would you mitigate the potential damage that could be caused if it fell into the wrong hands?
Fortunately, there a few proactive measures that can be taken to ease the mind, should this situation occur.
1) Set a password to unlock the device
An unlocked smart device is the equivalent of a home with the front door missing. It is an open invitation for people to come in and look around. Creating a pass code is an absolute must.
The more complex the unlock method, the better. Security and convenience never go hand in hand. Four digit pass codes can easily be cracked with a brute force attack, but they are better than nothing. To increase the difficulty of this type of attack, add additional characters. Android users have the option of using a pattern instead of a pass code. The level of security it provides will depend on the complexity of the pattern. Some devices also offer the option to wipe the phone contents after a set number of failed unlock attempts.
2) Enable data encryption on your smartphone
Data can be extracted from a device, even when it is not on. Data encryption can be accomplished in just a few easy steps.
iPhone & iPad:
iPhone data is automatically encrypted once the pass code option has been set. Consider this to be an added incentive to complete step 1.
Some Android devices have encryption enabled by default. If it isn't, it can be activated within the security section of the device's settings menu. The encryption process can take 20 minutes or more to complete. Make sure the device is fully charged or is connected to a charger before starting.
3) Enable data backup
As mobile technology has evolved over the years, it has become significantly easier to back up a device. A lost or damaged device no longer has to result in catastrophic data loss.
iPhone & iPad:
Apple's iCloud service is a "set-it-and-forget-it" backup solution for the iPhone and iPad. Once an iCloud account is created, the service runs in the background to keep a backup copy up-to-date. In the event of loss, iCloud automatically will restore the backed-up data when the account is signed in on a replacement device. The service has a tiered pricing with the first 5 GB of data storage being free.
For those that prefer a free (and manual) solution, devices can backed up and restored via cable sync on a PC or Mac using the iTunes application. The main limitations with using this method will be the frequency of backups and having access to the backup file when needing to restore data.
Because of the nature of the Android ecosystem, a single all encompassing backup solution is more difficult to come by. Most require advance knowledge of Android and administrative (root) privileges. However, there are some things that can be done to protect what most consider to be their most valuable data.
- Create and/or log-in to your Google account. A Google account is required to be able to download apps from the Google Play store and for another feature that will be mentioned shortly. (Side benefits of having a Google account linked to a device is that it will provide access to other Google services and provide an improved user experience by providing personalized results.)
- Once a Google account has been logged in, enable the system backup feature in the system settings menu, under "Backup & Restore." Activating this service will allow a user to restore their apps and system configurations on a replacement device.
- When creating contacts and calendar events, it is better to create them within a service that is backed up and synchronized regularly such as the Google account mentioned above or Exchange. If a user chooses to create these items within the device's address book or calendar, they should make sure there is a way to back up that local data and that the feature is enabled. Some manufacturer's (such as Samsung) provide additional software or an online service for this task.
- Use a photo app that allows for continuous backup of photos and videos to a cloud service. Google Photos and Flickr are two of the more popular free services that are out there. Backing media up to a Facebook account is another popular option.
- Install an SMS backup app. If a phone is lost, previous text messages will not appear on the replacement device. Using an app such as SMS Backup+ will provide a continuous backup of text messages and allow them to be restored.
4) Enable and test remote administration
In the event the worst does happen, users can still maintain some control over their device's data using a remote administration service. These types of services will allow a user to locate, lock, and remotely wipe their smart device. Apple and Google provide this service, free of charge.
This feature is tied into the iCloud service and can be accessed by logging into your iCloud account online. Once logged in, click on the "Find iPhone" icon. All the tasks mentioned above can be performed from this screen, as well as pushing a custom message to be displayed to anyone who finds the device.
Google also provides a similar service, provided that a Google account has been associated with the device. After accessing the account page in Google Play, the remote administration tool can be found by clicking on the gear icon in the top right corner and then selecting "Android Device Manager".
Completing these 4 steps will secure personal data and make the prospect of losing a mobile device a significantly less unnerving experience.