Mobile security? It's Easy If You Do It Smart

As the mobile devices are getting smarter, the need to secure them is important too. Today, the mobile phones and tablets have replaced the computers and laptops altogether. Today, the amount personal information stored on these pocketable devices is tremendous. These devices have become the source of new risks. This information is both personal and professional.

Why is mobile security required?

Today smart devices store a large amount of sensitive data. The access to this device needs to have proper controls. These controls ensure protection to user data. This includes:

  • contacts
  • media files: photos, videos, messages
  • emails: personal/work
  • banking details: account information, bank names, SMS from banks
  • other personal information

Data protection

Even workplaces promote smartphones and tablets for frequent travelers or high ranking officials. Today, organizations have designed specific policies for BYOD - bring your own device. Under this policy, the employees can bring their own personal devices and use them at work. Once setup they use the work profile for data access. This official data is sensitive information of the company along with the personal data.

How to protect the mobile phones/accounts?

Modern day devices offer various ways to protect information. Ranging from lock codes to long phrase-based passwords. Recently, more manufacturers are providing biometric sensors. These include hardware sensors like - fingerprint and recently iris scanners for authentication. Most of the biometric information is local on the device. This protects it from the cloud-based vulnerabilities.

All latest platforms - Android, iOS, and Windows, offer data protection using encryption. This method protects the data by making it unreadable. The data is accessible only if the correct password/code is input by the user. In case an incorrect password/code is input, the device is completely wiped. The number of incorrect entries is setup by the user. The device does a factory reset itself along with media files removed.

Even the cloud-based services have up the security level to protect user data. Most of the websites now offer 2-Step authentication. Check more details on 2-step authentication here. But, these are currently not turned on by default. So the users need to enable them to protect their data.

2step authentication

Backup your data — just in case

Android: Google sync works for Contacts & Applications. For SMS & Media [Photos/Videos] back up using Apps on the Android. Check out SMS backup+ and Google Photos. Google Drive, a cloud storage app is another way to backup your data on mobiles and computers.

The restore feature is part of the initial setup of Android itself. After you sign into your Google Account, the phone restores your data. All you need is a working WiFi connection or mobile data services enabled.

iOS: iCloud is the backup service, offered by Apple. The primary feature is to backup/restore of data. One can backup media, settings, applications data, messages etc.

iCloud also features, Find My iPhone services. This service is to track lost iOS devices. To use the cloud storage and Find My iPhone features, you need to have an active Apple ID. Apple ID requires a working email address, which is the username to access the iCloud account.

The restoration of the information from iCloud happens seamlessly during the setup process. Ensure you remember the Apple ID and its corresponding password.

cloud backup

Windows: OneDrive is the Windows cloud storage service like Google Drive and iCloud. Windows Phone has features allowing you to backup your photos and videos to OneDrive. With Windows Phone 8.1, the backup service covers more. Now covers start screen, theme colour, browser favourites and passwords too. Other backup options include call history, custom words in a dictionary, messaging, email accounts, lock screen and speech customisations.

The backup and restore feature are attached with your Microsoft account. The restore feature is part of the setup process on Windows Phone 8.1. During setup, it scans the OneDrive account to download and setup. This restores all the backup data.

Preventive measures, you can take

Tragedies are part of life. Don't wait for them to come to you, take preventive measures. Smartphones, today offer a variety of options for tracking a lost device, or even wipe out the data in case of no recovery.

Prepare for the worst case. Here's what you can do:

Android: There are various ways to track an Android phone. Google provides Android Device Manager (ADM), that allow managing your devices connected to the same GMAIL account. There is a catch, you need to install the app from Play Store and enable it for your device. Once enabled, ADM can track the device on Google maps (don't forget to keep your GPS always on), lock the device, make it ring (in case you misplace it behind the sofa or under the pillow. Works even with silent mode) and as a last resort wipe your device too.

image of device manager web tool

Here's a quick demo of Android Device Manager with my Nexus 6P.

Another of my favourite application is Cerberus. I've already reviewed Cerberus, check it out. This is my first app on any new Android device that arrives at my desk. Download Cerberus from Play Store.

iOS: Apple includes iCloud services, which has a feature for Find My iPhone. This is service also, needs to be manually turned on by the users, just like Android Device Manager. Find My iPhone also requires Location services to be turn on.

Interestingly, iCloud also offers a similar service to track down the MacBooks as well. This service is Find My Mac. The Mac does not have a dedicated GPS. To detect the location it uses the WiFi networks to identify the location on the maps.

image of find my mac

Windows: Windows offers a service sounding like iCloud, called Find My Phone (not the iPhone ofcourse). The service itself is quite like Android Device Manager and Find My iPhone. It allows user to track the Windows phone via the web tool. The functionality offered is the same as well - ring the phone, lock and erase your phone.

The Ring features will ring the device even if the volume is off or set to vibrate. The lock option will lock the device. In case you don't already have a password set up, you'll need to enter one; this is to unlock the phone once you get it back. The final choice is erase. Use this when you're certain you can't get your phone back, or if you have sensitive information on it.

3rd Party tracking services: Prey offers a tracking service for all kinds of phones and laptops running - Android, Apple, Linux or Windows. Prey offers various packages including a free (no trial, no gimmicks) plan as well.

prey plans

The sign up process is simple. Enter your name, email id, country and choose a strong password. Once you sign up a welcome email is sent and you are logged into the control panel. (No device selected yet)

control panel

I'll be using Prey on multiple devices and shall share my experiences soon. Sign up for Prey and protect your devices.

Conclusion

As mobile devices have become an integral part of our lives, it is important to secure these. One may not realise the worth of the data stored in our phones today, unless we loose it once. So prepare for the worst and never be over confident.

No matter which device you use, each one has at least one service to ensure the device can be tracked to recover or erase the sensitive information on them.

Protect your phones, to protect your life...

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