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Friday, November 21, 2014

7 essential steps to secure your smartphone or tablet by Kim Komando

Your smartphone - or tablet - knows a lot about you. It's packed with your contacts, emails, photos, texts and browsing history.
You probably have it set to log in to your Facebook or Twitter app automatically. If you shop or bank on your phone, it's probably holding your account logins and credit card numbers.
In other words, you want to keep other people as far away from it as possible. Just thinking about someone else on my phone and what they could do with the information in it gives me the chills.
Unfortunately, and I'm sure you know this, friends and family like to snoop, thieves have no trouble walking away with gadgets in public and hackers are getting better at making malicious data-stealing apps.

You don't have to put up with any of it, though. Keep reading and I'll tell you how to lock down your iPhone, iPad, Android gadgets or Windows phone so that snoops and criminals don't get their hands on your valuable information.

1. Set a PIN or password

Did you know that one-third of smartphone users don't set up the lock screen on their phones? I don't mean the default "Swipe to unlock" screen - that won't stop a bad guy.

You need to use the lock screen and come up with a good number code. This code should be something that isn't easy to guess. Something like 1-2-3-4 or 0-0-0-0 isn't going to cut it.

iOS 7 has you set up a passcode for the lock screen the first time you use it. It might be time to beef it up. Click here to make a more secure passcode for iOS.

For Android, go to Settings>>Lock screen to set a pattern or passcode. Click here for tricks to creating strong passwords you won't forget.

For Windows phones, go to the Start screen and tap Settings>>Lock screen to set up your passcode.
Important: Be sure you set your gadget to lock automatically after a few minutes. An hour gives a criminal plenty of time to poke through your information.

2. Only install trusted apps

Bad apps are loaded with malware that can infect your gadget with viruses and steal your information. Newer ones even hijack your contact list to spam your friends and infect their gadgets.

You can lower the risk by only installing apps from the major app stores - Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft. This isn't a big problem for Apple, but Android allows you to visit third-party app stores.

You can disable installing apps from untrusted sources by going to Settings>>Security and unchecking the "Unknown Sources" option. You should also check the "Verify Apps" option if you have it.

Unfortunately, just because an app is in the Google Play, Apple or Windows store doesn't guarantee it's completely safe. You still want to check reviews and visit the app's official website to confirm it's trustworthy and not a fake copy. Or grab the link from a trustworthy site.

Still, even legitimate apps can grab information from your phone that you might not want to share. That's why you need to check the app's permissions before you install it.

Does it make sense for it to grab your GPS location or get access to your gadget's camera? Think twice about installing an app that wants free rein over your gadget, especially if it really doesn't need it.

Also, read each app's privacy policy. Find out what information it collects and what it does with that information.

3. Keep your smartphone to yourself

Would you let just anyone hold your wallet unattended? Probably not.

So don't lend out your phone or tablet to people you don't know. If you do let someone borrow your gadget, make sure you're in a public place and be sure that your phone stays close by.

It only takes a couple of minutes for criminals - and sometime even a family member or friend - to install a spy app on your phone. Click here to learn more about spy apps.

And please: Don't leave it sitting out in plain sight in a restaurant or coffee shop - or anywhere else. One day I caught myself at a department store repeatedly setting my phone down on a shelf while I browsed through various clothes racks. How dumb would I have felt if a quick-witted thief snatched it up while I wasn't looking?

4. Protect your phone with free security apps

Your smartphone isn't immune to viruses. If it gets infected, it leaves you open to hackers and anyone else trying to steal your information.

Your first line of defense should be a powerful antivirus and spyware program. Grab an app like avast! or Lookout Mobile Security to thwart dangerous attacks.

5. Enable remote location and wiping

Always plan as if the worst will happen. You'll want to be ready if -- or when -- it does.
I should mention that 1.6 million smartphones were stolen in the U.S. last year - and smartphone theft is growing, even with a universal smartphone kill switch in the works.

If your gadget is lost or stolen, tracking apps can tell you exactly where your phone is. These apps also let you wipe sensitive information remotely. If your phone does end up landing in the wrong hands, you can at least make sure they don't get your information.

iOS users have Find My iPhone. To enable it, go to Settings>>iCloud. Look for Find My iPhone and turn it on.

For Android, use Android Device Manager. To enable tracking, launch the app, link it to a Google account and follow the directions.

Lost your phone in your house? This app lets you whistle for it.

For Windows phones, there's the Find My Phone feature. To set it up, go to Settings>>Find My Phone. Make sure the slider is set to on.

6. Stay safe on public Wi-Fi networks

Free public Wi-Fi is a smart way to surf on your smartphone without eating into your data plan. But there's a dangerous side to public hotspots.

Hackers love to infiltrate these networks to snoop for valuable information, like secure account logins and credit card numbers.

Stay safe by doing banking or shopping at home or over cellular using your financial institution's app. You can also use an encryption service like Hotspot Shield VPN.

Click here to find out more ways to stay safe on public Wi-Fi. Also, make sure your home Wi-Fi is secure against intruders.

7. Wipe your old phone before donating, selling or recycling

Upgrading to a new phone and ditching your old one? Make sure to wipe your old phone before you sell or recycle it. You definitely don't want the information on your phone getting into the wrong hands.

Don't worry - wiping your gadget only takes a few minutes. Click here for step-by-step instructions to wiping your iPhone, Android or Windows phone.