Basic Smartphone Security tips

Question

I am a new Blackberry user and loving it but what kinds of security issues should I be concerned about?

- Jamie

Answer

This question was answered on July 25, 2008. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

Everyone that owns any kind of a “smart” or PDA phone that stores data, should have the same concern.

These dynamic phones have dramatically improved the mobile communication world and devices like the Blackberry are leading the way, but they also lead the way in exposing the user to much higher risks

The risks aren’t so much the traditional computer virus or hacker risks (although that's changing as more people use smart phones), the real risk is in what happens if you lose your phone.

Anyone that’s had a Blackberry or iPhone for any period of time has likely compiled a ton of information that could aid in identity theft or expose sensitive corporate data.

All of these devices have security options available, but most all of them come from the factory disabled.

Start by looking for the Security settings for your device and activate the master device password (for most Blackberry devices it’s in Options | Security Options | General Settings) which will automatically lock down the phone after the chosen “Security Timeout” period.

When you activate this setting, you will have to put your password in every time the phone sits idol for longer than your Security Timeout period, so don’t set it too low or it will become irritating.

You should be aware that Blackberry’s are programmed to automatically wipe out the data if you enter the password wrong 10 times This auto wipe feature can work for you if you lose your device or against you if you are not good at remembering your passwords, so use a strong password, but don't forget it!

For easier lockdowns you may want to consider setting your side "Convenience" button as a shortcut to activate the Lock option This will allow you to quickly lock the phone whenever you wanted without having to scroll through the menu to get to the Lock feature.

Another potential security hole is the Bluetooth wireless option, depending upon how you have it configured If you don’t plan to walk around like a cyborg with a Bluetooth headset on your ear, simply disable the Bluetooth interface for maximum security If you do want to use Bluetooth devices, make sure your phone is not set to “Discoverable” to keep others from connecting to your phone without your knowledge and manually configure anything you want to connect through Bluetooth.

If your Blackberry is part of a large corporate network that uses a current version of the Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES), your system administrator can actually send a remote “kill” command (which wipes everything out) that will get delivered to the phone wirelessly, as long as the phone is turned on and in a wireless network coverage area.

When you store sensitive personal information on your phone, try not to make it too easy for someone to scan through your phone and harvest the data.

For instance, if you are going to store passwords, pin numbers or other very sensitive information on the phone, don’t label it as PIN number or online passwords or even mention the name of the bank Use coded entries or abbreviations that only you would understand.

If you are storing banking access information, don’t put the username and the password in the same memo or note, use separate entries that are not obviously linked Assume that someday you will lose your phone and do everything you can to make it very difficult to understand where and how to use the data that you are storing.

Every smart phone has a number of other security options that can be activated, but you will need to do your homework to know which ones are best suited for your use (Google is the best resource for learning how others are securing your specific device).

Remember, security and usability are on the opposite sides of the scale, so find the right balance so that your device is secure and usable at the same time.

All of this should also turn on another light bulb: Sync your device with your computer on a regular basis so you always have a current backup in case you ever lose or have to reset your device.

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on July 25, 2008