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Mobile Safety Tips

If you’ve ever had a virus infect your computer you know that the result equals anything from hours of lost productivity to potential identity theft. Now these same threats have spread to mobile phones and tablet computers, along with their own unique twists.

We asked several experts for their advice on how to keep your mobile devices secure and your privacy intact.

Communicate carefully

When you place or receive a call on a mobile phone, the information is largely secure. However, a record of that call is stored on your provider’s servers, according to Tom Widman, President and CEO of Identity Fraud, Inc. He says this record is stored in case a court orders a subpoena—and the same goes for SMS texts. Even if texting with a friend or significant other, it’s always wise to consider how what you tap into your phone could be misconstrued by a stranger.

Also, never click on a link in a text or e-mail when you aren’t 100% certain about the sender. In fact, Widman suggest not clicking through on links at all, via e-mail (to your phone) or via text. “The text or e-mail may say it’s from a source you trust,” Widman says, “However there is no way to prove that fact and it’s very easy to alter the sender info.”

Be strong with passwords

Simple advice: never store passwords on your mobile device, whether that’s for your Facebook login, your Twitter account or certainly not your bank account (more on mobile banking below). But DO password-protect your phone, and Widman says to make sure it’s a strong password nobody could guess. You need to avoid obvious personal information, such as people’s names, addresses, date of birth, etc. Widman advises using a phrase that is significant to you and then using the first letter of each word in that phrase. To make that even more unique, use a variation of upper and lower case letters, as well as at least one number and one symbol. For instance: “I love my two dogs, Rex and Spot”: Ilm2dR+S.

Choose apps from trusted sources

Yes, apps are fun and addictive, but they can be susceptible to viruses that can take over the apps themselves, if not the entire phone. So vet your apps—download them from a trusted source and read customer ratings and reviews. Apple claims its apps are all vetted internally and that the application code is secure. Google’s Android app software has fallen prey to so-called “malware” in China, according to security software maker McAfee. While Google makes sure the entire phone is secure (the worst that has happened is the apps themselves have been taken over, not the entire phone), the danger here is that you might store a password within an app and be at risk. Again, the prevention here is to not store passwords within apps that require them. And here’s one more reason to not click email or text links on your phone: Links often bring malware through to the vulnerable apps, opening a sort of “gateway” in the armor of your phone’s security software.

Use only trusted wireless networks

An open wireless network in a public place—the kind that does not require a password— is a very vulnerable place to use the Internet. This the LAST place on earth you want to log on to a social network, tweet from or use ANY personal information or passwords. Widman even advises not logging onto e-mail via a non-vetted WiFi network. And chances are that if your phone gets e-mail anyway, you don’t actually need WiFi to access it. Best practice is to make sure you are accessing a trusted password protected network (and even then be careful) and to turn off wireless features when you’re not using them.

At home, set up a WPA2, password-protected network. You also want to make sure your IP address isn’t broadcast (translation: nobody without the network name can even “see” that it exists on their computer or mobile device).

Use Bluetooth with care

Bluetooth generally has a very short signal (it literally cannot travel very far between devices), so it’s useful for transmitting music to a car’s audio system or using apps that share contact information between phones, but it, too, makes devices vulnerable. If your phone has Bluetooth and you want to use it to connect to a car or a laptop, be sure both ends of the Bluetooth transmission are password protected. An extra step on some devices, such as Blackberry phones, is to make sure the transmission is encrypted (scrambled). Always take that extra measure when possible. Further, TURN BLUETOOTH OFF when the phone isn’t near the device you want to connect it to, otherwise you are again leaving the phone more open to hacking.

Bank safely

Mobile banking has become extremely popular. We consulted with mobile banking experts from Bank of America and they assure users that their system is secure with a type of no-fault system in place in case a device is hacked. However, you still don’t want to endure that headache. To avoid it, follow all the advice listed above.

Widman lists a few cautions, as well. First, he says, “Your creditors and banks will NEVER ask for account information or passwords by an email or text message. If you are in doubt, call your creditor or bank.” He also says to never store account information on your phone, and that if your phone is lost or stolen to call your bank branch or customer service number immediately to have a “block” put on any activity until you reset the account in person. Bank of America and most other mobile services offer to send alerts to your phone so you can see what’s happening with your account, so if an unauthorized transfer or payment occurs you can notify the bank immediately.

Enable remote wipe

If your phone is lost or stolen, the first call you should make is to your provider. Depending on the phone, the device could potentially be remotely wiped (all the data cleared from it). Most smartphones have this capability and there are apps available as well.

Password-protect your phone for another layer of security, but hackers can crack this code. Once it’s out of your hands it’s always better to call and have the phone wiped or at least have the services disabled. Then make sure to change passwords for your social networks, any e-mail login information and contact your bank if you use mobile banking from that phone.

Lastly, run software updates!

Update your devices and antivirus programs regularly. This will ensure that you have any available security patches.

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