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Tips On How To Secure The Content Of Your Mobile Phone

Updated on October 22, 2011

Mobile phones have undoubtedly become an established necessity in today's world. As the use of this amazing gadget becomes common, it gives rise to issues related to privacy and security which are often underestimated by most of the users. Think about the amount of personal information a handset has got in form of images, messages, notes, reminders etc., plus that of other people in form of address book or contact list. No one would like such information to fall in wrong hands and, therefore, it is essential to adopt some safe practices while using mobile phone.

Start with the very basics. Make effective use of the built-in functions of your handset. Many handsets have a default feature to auto-save the sent SMS - this is an unnecessary exposure which can easily be done away with. Once this is done, take a look at other message folders such as drafts, saved and outbox. Often, such folders contain long forgotten items if not purged in time. Before sharing a mobile phone, ensure that all such folders are empty and make a habit of emptying the inbox several times a day.

Another similar item that keeps accumulating data is call lists. It is essential to empty out all the lists at the time of selling a phone. You should also know where the contacts are saved. Most of the users are not aware of the number of contacts on their phone and SIM memory. Although there is an option to move contacts between these two storage areas, it is rarely used for consolidation.

Preferably, contacts should be saved on the SIM only, since this makes it easy to share phone without worrying about left over information besides making it simpler to backup data to PC, or move it between phones and restore in case the phone meets an accident. And those who prefer contact name security, renaming obvious contacts with mnemonics or pseudonyms is a good technique to hide actual names of confidential contacts.

The next area to watch out for is application security - particularly when using third-party internet applications that may save username and/or password. It is not uncommon to find saved passwords in applications such as instant messengers, Gmail applet or other email applications and even online trading applications. For built-in applications such as notes, secured notes and wallets, ensure that passwords are not very easy to guess and information is not self-explanatory. For example, instead of ATM PIN 2345, use 2031425 without captions. It has 0, 1 and 2 intertwined between the actual numbers. Or use any other easy to remember combination, which is difficult to detect. This is essential to ward off both wallet and phone compromise.

Also, review how the available features are used. Are there family snaps saved in the phone instead of backed up at home PC? Is connectivity, such as Infra-red, Bluetooh or WiFi, on? Of particular concern is Bluetooth given its widespread use. It is common to receive connection request from unknown devices while in mobile markets where infected handsets are scanning the area, or even in apartment complexes from an adjacent floor or room. Safe practices include keeping connectivity options off by default, or keeping handsets in non-discoverable mode so that only already paired devices can connect. Also, ensure that the list of paired devices is revisited once in a while to ascertain that only known ones are present there.

Exploring all the features of a mobile phone - that is, going one by one in each menu and sub-menu item - is an essential step to know what security features are present, such as various types of call restrictions, number screening and passwords. If necessary, implement a phone start-up password. But before that, make sure that you know the PUK code since three unsuccessful log-in attempts can lock the phone. If the SIM jacket is kept at a safe place, it is not a problem to read the PUK from it for pre-paid accounts. In case of post-paid and pre-paid accounts where the SIM jacket is lost or PUK code is unavailable, one can contact the customer service department of the respective cellular company. Therefore, note it down in advance, but do not save it in phone itself. For those who have smart phones and the latest versions of Symbian or Windows Mobile, a specialised and trusted anti-virus like Kaspersky and Symantec helps.

Roving bug

Imagine being ordered to remove cell phone batteries in a high-level corporate meeting to avoid hidden bugs! The reason is roving bug - a controversial and not-yet-officially-proven hidden bugging facility that can allegedly turn a handset into a microphone without the owner's knowledge. This effectively turns a cell phone - apparently idle or even turned off - into a remote listening device. Although the manufactures and service providers internationally are not very enthusiastic about disclosing details about possibly and implementation of roving bug, the topic has found its way in newspapers at times and has been of great interest.

Security, while using mobile devices is largely a trade with usability and accepted practices and habits, like keeping self-portrait or that of the significant-other as wallpaper. Nonetheless, it is a fact that if the device is compromised, the amount of information at stake is large. But this is not taken seriously enough as yet. To ensure that our electronic footprints do not become an easy target, a review of phone usage habits is required along with keeping up-to-date with latest security threats, learning from others' mistakes and finally, developing a security-oriented mindset that tries to pierce through the ‘normal' usage pattern to identify what can go wrong and how!


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