Smartphone safety tips you need to know.  Our article published in the January 2013 edition of California Investigator is posted below.

In today’s technology landscape, people are becoming increasingly aware of security issues.  It has almost become second nature for people to understand the importance of keeping their computers and laptops safe from unauthorized access and malicious attacks.  In recent years, the advent of the smartphone has taken center stage as people have been enticed by the convenience of having all the power of a desktop computer in their pocket.  According to Plateau, a telecomm provider, an estimated 96% of the US population currently uses cell phones.

Some smartphones can cost an upward of $500 and yet are quite an easy little item to steal.  The information that you keep on your device can be worth more than money.  Therefore, it is increasingly important for people to educate themselves on the safe use of smartphones and how to secure their personal data kept therein.

For private investigators, smartphones may be their primary and most valued business tool.  A smartphone will allow the investigator to make calls, check email, use GPS and maps, locate a business or office, record audio statements, and obtain photographs or video documentation and research information using the Internet.  There are numerous applications, “Apps,” which can be downloaded onto the smartphone that help make an investigator’s device even more of a powerful professional tool.  Just as investigators access confidential and restricted information and databases on their laptops, they are increasingly going to their smartphone as a research device while in the field.  Therefore, it is essential those private investigators, or anyone with a smartphone, take measures to safeguard their device.

Stats:

$30 Billion worth of smartphones are lost each year in the United States alone –Intuit 2012

Approximately 113 cell phones are lost or stolen every minute in the United States –Plateau 2012

$7 Million worth of smartphones are lost daily–Plateau 2012

1 in 4 Americans will lose their cell phone each year –Intuit 2012

1 in 5 school aged children have had their mobile phone stolen–Plateau 2012

Active Measures You can Take to Protect Your Smartphone:

Password Protect:

  • Password-protect your voicemail and general entry into your phone.  And, do not use your date of birth or dog’s name as these are the first passwords someone who knows even a little bit about you, (or find out about you on social media), will try. A good password will have at least 8 characters or more, contain both capital and lower case letters, a number and a special character (ex # or !).
  • If you use a pattern password on your touch-screen phone, be sure to change it often.  Drawing a pattern on your phone’s screen over and over again will create small scratches which will eventually show the pattern.
  • All new smartphones have built-in security measures of one kind or another. The ubiquitous iPhone® has a number of free features worthy of activating. Under the Settings icon > Passcode lock> Erase data there is an On/Off toggle. If toggled On, your iPhone data will automatically be erased after 10 failed attempts to enter a password. This only works, of course, if you’ve activated password protection. Another password feature on the iPhone, activates the Password Screen after a certain amount of time (chosen by the user) has passed without any smartphone use. Like many other smartphones, iPhone has a feature – called iCloud® – by Apple, which does double duty. First, it backs up your data to a remote site should your phone be destroyed (or its data wiped by repeated password entry failures. Don’t forget, if you activate the auto erase feature, activating iCloud is a must. Second, if iCloud is activated under Settings, the user can then use Find My iPhone in the event it is lost or stolen. That program allows the user to pinpoint the phone’s location and/or remote erasing of the data.

Antivirus Programs & Backup:

  • Be sure to utilize a reputable smartphone antivirus such as Avast® or Lookout™. Kapersky™ is also an excellent provider.  You wouldn’t imagine using your laptop without an antivirus so why would you neglect putting one on your smartphone which is essentially a tiny computer?
  • Many smartphones and their carriers include a tracking solution.  Several of the smartphone antivirus programs also offer a tracking option for lost and stolen phones.  Double check that your phone is covered by one of these programs and TEST IT!
  • Backup your phone data regularly (personal information, bank and medical information which could be on your phone, contact information, photos, etc.).  Make the backup automated and store it in a secure cloud which is encrypted.  Test the restoration process.

Applications “Aps”:

  • You will want to be cautious with which applications you install on your smartphone.  Some are malicious and many ask that you approve a list of permissions.   Read the entire list of permissions and use common sense as to whether they are logical.  Why would a flashlight application need access to your email contacts?  Some “Apps” ask permission to be able to write or delete information on your SIM card.  Stick to the iPhone App Store and Android Market for trusted and screened applications.
  • Use protective “Apps” with encryption that also give remote access.  Some of the smartphone antivirus programs include remote wipe capability software which can be used clear the phone’s data if the phone is lost or stolen.  If only we could do this to the contents of a stolen wallet!

Physical Security:

  • When walking down the street and talking on your phone, be aware of your surroundings.  It’s quite easy for a thief to see you distracted and just nab it out of your hand and run.  Having a wrist strap on your phone and using it can also help make this method of theft more difficult.
  • Be aware of your surroundings when using public transit.  Cell phone users are a great target and thieves have an easy get-away when the subway or bus stops.  Don’t even take out your phone as this would advertise how nice the phone is to any potential thief.
  • Don’t leave your phone lying around.  Don’t leave it in plain sight in your car or home near a window.
  • Turn off the geo-tagging feature which usually is automatically setup on the cell phone at the time of purchase.  Any photos taken with the geo-tagging feature turned on can disclose the location in which the photo was taken; your office, home or even specific room in the house.  Anyone searching your social media page can likely find more about you than you suspected by using photos taken by your cell phone.

Miscellaneous:

  • If your phone is lost, make it easier for it to be returned.  You can add contact information to the lock-screen.  Just don’t list the number to the phone itself! Perhaps you can include a work number or non-primary email address.
  • Document your phone’s serial number and IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) and store it in a safe place.  That information will be imperative to have for an insurance claim or police report.
  • Turn off the feature on your cell phone which automatically connects it to a wireless network.  Having that feature on allows anyone to be able to nab your logins and passwords right off of your phone as you walk by-phone in use or not. With the auto-connect Wi-Fi feature on, your phone will continue to search for a local connection, leaving your phone’s authentication tokens (also known as security token) vulnerable for hackers to grab.  Authentication tokens are security features which store your login details for frequently used sites such as social media sites, online banking, etc.

What to do if your smartphone has been stolen:

  1. Use the tracking software to locate the device
  2. If necessary, use your phone program to wipe the data off of the SIM card remotely
  3. File a police report
  4. Notify your cell phone carrier who can shut off the phone’s service and document your account that you reported your phone stolen

The author is independent of any specific company, program or software that would benefit from the promotion of this information.  This article is meant solely as an informational piece to help educate others on how to protect themselves and their companies.  Any recommendations and tips should not be construed as legal or professional advice.  Should you have any specific questions or concerns regarding your information security contact a trained IT professional.

The author is a licensed professional investigator in California who specializes in customized litigation support and complex investigations. Cory has been sought out for her expertise in complex litigation investigations, has been interviewed on the topic of database research and educates on the importance of information security. Learn more about her company, Keystone Investigative Services, Inc. at www.Keystoneis.com.