Jan. 30, 2013 at 3:54 PM ET
Have you ever thought about all the personal information stored on your smartphone or tablet?
I mean, really thought about everything you save so that it's always at your fingertips?
Then think about how well protected that information is.
You may not care if your list of favorite wines goes public, but what if someone were to copy your spouse’s driver’s license and Social Security numbers?
Millions of people have such data stored in their smartphones or tablets. Because mobile devices are so easy to lose or have stolen, all data on them is at substantial risk.
With Android devices, there's additional danger. They've been plagued by shoddy security and malicious apps.
Cybercrooks are getting bolder and more creative with those apps every day. Just as you think you're one step ahead of the crooks, they come up with a new way to steal your personal information.
That’s why it's vital for every Android user to learn how to lock down and protect his or her device.
Keep out the digital thieves
Right now, malicious apps, which often pretend to be cheaper versions of popular apps or games, are the No. 1 risk for Android devices.
"Malicious applications targeted for Android devices [have] increased between 400 to 1,000 percent in the past 18 to 24 months," said Jerry Irvine, chief information officer of Prescient Solutions in Schaumburg, Ill.
"These malicious applications perform multiple tasks, but share one common goal — to attain the personal information on these mobile devices and push it out to criminal entities."
Malware can also be installed on an Android device in other ways, such as through websites, emails, text messages or even NFC (near-field communication) file transfers.
To best protect your phone from malware, Irvine said, download anti-virus and malware-scanning apps designed for Android devices.
Most of the better known anti-virus software companies have security apps available. Chances are you can stick with the brand you like best.
Be sure to upgrade the anti-virus software when prompted, since new malware is being released every day.
And the human ones
But malware isn't the only threat to the personal data on your smartphone or tablet. If the device is lost or stolen, the data's in someone else's hands.
You should consider installing a security product that regularly backs up the data on your device to a cloud-storage service — and also has a location detector and the ability to remotely wipe personal data if the device is gone for good.
The first line of defense, however, is to protect your device with a PIN, password or pattern lock. That way, no one can randomly pick it up and start checking your email.
"Passwords and PIN configurations on mobile devices can be configured to entirely wipe the device if the password is not entered correctly within a specific number of times," Irvine said.
"The security should be configured. Strong passwords of eight or more characters should be used because they make it much harder to crack the password."
Keep your password, PIN or lock pattern truly secret by regularly wiping your device's screen clean. Repeated finger gestures will smear the glass, leaving smudge patterns that can tip off a thief.
Theft of smartphones and tablets is on the rise. Thieves have been known to swipe phones out of the hands of users who were still talking.
While these thieves may be primarily interested in the street value of the device, your unprotected data is always going to be at risk.
Considering how we use our smartphones and tablets (and got rid of address books and other tools that held our vital numbers), it's futile to recommend keeping all personally identifiable information off our gadgets.
Instead, keep the amount of such information on your device to a minimum, and make sure your phone has multiple layers of security.
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