Archive for June, 2017

Quick reminder about basic cell phone security

Who among us hasn’t left a cell phone unattended somewhere, even for a short time? Sometimes we do it by accident, as when we walk out of a meeting or conference and suddenly realize we left without the phone, and sometimes we do it on purpose, as when we set the phone in a charger and step away from our desks for a while.

In those fairly typical circumstances, chances are that no one will steal your phone or even just sneak a peek at your mail.  However, to be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to apply at least minimal security measures.  Simply requiring a PIN or a password to get past the lock screen can frustrate would-be thieves or snoops.  I use a four-digit PIN on my phones.  Although it’s undoubtedly somewhat less secure than an actual password, it works well for me because I can enter the PIN quickly and start using the phone with negligible delay.[1]  At the same time, I feel fairly comfortable knowing that if I leave my phone on my desk for a few minutes, no one is going to be able to read my mail.  (I’ve also made that possibility less likely by choosing a relatively short screen timeout setting.)

I confess that I’m not familiar with iPhones, so I don’t know where the appropriate settings are located.  On my somewhat older Android phones, the settings related to passwords and PINS are under “Lock Screen” (i.e., Settings > Lock Screen).[2]  You might find these security-related settings, or additional ones (including those for the screen timeout), under “Display” or “Security.”[3]

Incidentally, it’s also a good idea to empty your mail Trash folder(s) periodically, especially if you regularly delete mail from your phone that contains any financial or otherwise sensitive information.  As you know, deleting mail from your phone (like deleting mail from a mail-reading program on a computer) ordinarily just puts messages into a Trash folder rather than permanently erasing them from your device.  So anyone who can get into your phone and into your mail – assuming the mail on your phone isn’t password-protected – can see those messages.

On my Android, I can’t see the Trash folder unless I go into my mail settings and choose “Show All Folders.” When all folders display, I’m able to go into the Trash folder and select and delete the messages.

Don’t forget to install an antivirus program on your phone.  (Most antivirus programs offer versions that you can install on multiple devices, which I believe is a good investment.)  And of course, follow the same precautions when reading mail or browsing on your phone that you follow on your computer(s) – such as not clicking links unless you’re 100% certain that they’re safe.

In addition, remember to back up your critical data (as well as anything of sentimental value, such as hard-to-replace photos) on a regular basis in case your phone is lost, damaged beyond repair, or stolen.

Finally, consider installing a “Find My Phone” app that will allow you to locate your phone if it does go missing, and to erase your data remotely to make it less likely that a thief will gain access to the data.

This post covers only a few basics related to cell phone security.  But even the simple measures I’ve described here can add greatly to the security of the data on your phone.  If you haven’t already added a PIN or a password to your phone, consider doing so now, while you’re thinking about it.


[1]  I’m not referring to using the phone while driving, which I scrupulously avoid.  (I have a speakerphone in my car for those rare occasions when someone urgently needs to contact me during an extended road trip.)  That was true even before my closest friend was killed by a distracted driver in May of 2016.

[2]  Note:  The locations of these settings vary by manufacturer, operating system (even within Android phones), and model year, so you might have to explore a bit to find the settings on your own phone.

[3]  Use caution, and do some research, before changing any of the default settings under “Security.”  Many of those settings (such as settings to require decrypting the phone each time you use it) appear to be meant to disable the phone if it is stolen.  They can have unintended consequences; make sure you understand those consequences before proceeding.  (Here is one helpful article about encryption on Androids: How to Encrypt Your Android Phone (and Why You Might Want to).)

June 18, 2017 at 11:03 am

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