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How to Stay Safe with a Smart Phone

Simple measures can protect users from loss of device or identity theft

-- by Victoria Stunt, CBC News  March 5, 2014

Smartphones carry an abundance of private information, enough to compromise bank accounts or pave the way for identity theft. Yet smartphones users often have their devices out in the open, risking theft or having the sensitive data inside compromised. CBC News consulted security specialists at Symantec Canada for tips on how stay to safe on your smartphone. 

Have a PIN number or password

A PIN number or password is the simplest way to stop the average thief from looking through a smartphone. Otherwise, if the phone gets into the wrong hands, it's easy to get access to the details inside, including passwords, social media accounts, photos and banking information. A thief could also make expensive phone calls, leaving the smartphone owner footing the bill.

Put a PIN number or password on the SIM card

Having a PIN number on a phone is not going stop a thief from taking out the SIM card and inserting it into another phone, where the thief is still able to access the private information. Set a PIN code for the SIM card through the phone's settings to secure personal details even further. 

Run the latest operating system and download every OS update

Updates often contain changes that will make a smartphone more secure. For example, Apple’s iOS 7 has a feature called Activation Lock. When the Find My iPhone app is enabled, Activation Lock kicks in and a thief must know the Apple ID and password to erase and reactivate the device. This makes it hard for a thief to sell the phone.  Another security feature called Touch ID unlocks the smartphone by scanning a fingerprint.

Have a security product on board

It’s not something many smartphone users think about, but those devices can get viruses, too. Installing anti-virus software specifically for smartphones can help combat this. A security product that encrypts data on a phone can also be installed.

Download apps from a trusted source

According to a report by Appthority, a mobile app security firm, 83 per cent of the most popular apps are associated with security risks and privacy issues. Only four to five per cent of apps are developed by trusted sources, such as Apple or Google. The rest can be developed by just about anyone, including cybercriminals.

Check out an app's privacy policy 

In tech-savy San Francisco, where these smartphone users are engrossed in their devices, more than half the robberies reported are iPhone-related. (Ben Margot/Associated Press)

When downloading an app, read its privacy policy to make sure it will not expose any of the personal information on the smartphone. According to the report by Appthority, 39 per cent of paid iOS apps and 16 per cent of paid Android apps share data with ad companies.

Don’t let websites cache a smartphone login

Letting websites and apps store passwords allows thieves to gain access to accounts with sensitive information. Although it’s incredibly convenient to check emails with a single tap, it’s far safer not to have passwords saved on a phone.

Register a phone for a Lock Locate Wipe program

With these programs, a smartphone user can lock a phone remotely, use GPS signals to help locate it and then wipe the phone of its data. Apple’s Activation lock for iPhone does all this automatically when Find my iPhone is turned on. Android Device Manager, which was released last summer, does this as well.

Make sure WiFi networks are secure

Not all WiFi links are legitimate. Some could be set up by people looking to steal personal information. When using public WiFi, don’t go on sites that contain private or financial data. Be aware of the additional risk to help determine which apps or sites to access.

Buy your own VPN (virtual private network)

Obtaining a VPN adds an extra layer of protection. It secures a wireless internet connection by encrypting the data that passes through the network to keep data safe. A solution like Norton Hotspot Privacy offers that extra layer of protection while accessing the internet via a public or untrusted WiFi.

Don’t leave your smartphone lying around

In tech-savy San Francisco, more than half the robberies reported are iPhone-related. Keeping the phone out of sight is one of the most obvious and easiest ways to protect it.

Be aware of the risks with e-banking on a smartphone

Banking on a smartphone can put your money and identity at risk. Phones that allow multiple apps to run at the same time pose the biggest threat when banking on a phone; viruses and dangerous software attached to other apps could be running in the background and monitoring e-banking activities.

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