How to protect your iPhone, iPad, iPod from data theft

An attorney holds an Apple iPad, left, and

An attorney holds an Apple iPad, left, and a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 at the regional court in Dusseldorf, Germany. (Aug. 25, 2011) (Credit: AP)

Whether you're one of the millions of Americans that already owns a mobile handheld device or you're hoping Santa slips one under your tree this year, there's something you likely haven't put much thought toward: mobile security.

According to Forrester Research, an estimated 46 percent of all bank account holders will use mobile banking services by 2017. Even if you aren't accessing your bank or credit account from your handheld device, you likely have email; social networking and a multitude of apps that give a would-be thief plenty of valuable information via your phone or tablet. Take a few easy steps to protect that information from loss or theft.

First, enable a pass-code lock that requires a code or pattern be entered when you reactivate your phone or tablet from sleep mode. I know, you're thinking, "What a hassle to have to enter a number or trace a pattern every time I want to use the phone." Keep in mind that most thieves are looking for an easy target. Someone looking to steal data is likely to abandon the endeavor rather than go to the effort of trying to hack past the lock screen.


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Apple devices as well as many other handheld gadgets offer the option to erase all data if a wrong code is entered more than 10 times. This safety measure immediately brings to mind the image of my son relentlessly pressing buttons trying to get to his games until my phone is made useless. However, if you've taken the precaution of backing up your data and apps to a cloud application (such as iCloud, SugarSync, etc), even an errant data wipe isn't tragic.

Next, use a mobile security application that lets you control your phone or tablet remotely in case it's lost or stolen. Look for one that shows your gadget's approximate location --provided your device is powered and you have GPS activated --on an online map. If it's somewhere in or around your home, use the software to activate a repeating alarm beep to help you find it. Should you discover it's at your local Starbucks or, worse, in someone else's possession, the application should let you remotely lock the phone, post a message on the home screen with your contact info or, if necessary, remotely wipe your data.

Users of iPhone, iPod and iPad should activate Apple's Find My iPhone (or Find My iPod/iPad). It does all of the things listed above. Best of all, it's free and comes pre-installed on all current iOS mobile devices. If you didn't enable it when you activated your device, navigate through the settings menu to the section for iCloud, then the Find My iPhone (iPod/iPad) option. Toggle the switch to ON. When prompted, allow the application to access your location.

Avast! Free Mobile Security (www.avast.com/en-us/free-mobile-securitytab3) is a great free option for Android users. It runs silently in the background, so it's difficult to detect or remove and can survive hard resets. Besides the features listed above, it includes a siren that gets louder if thieves try to turn it off and call forwarding so you don't miss a call or text while your phone is MIA. If an unauthorized SIM card is detected, the phone will lock, activate the siren and send you a notification with the phone's new number and geographic location. All the anti-theft settings can be modified remotely, so they're easily customizable to your particular situation.

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