Like millions of other people, I got my first smartphone for work, not personal use. And, just like most other digital device users, my personal life soon became a part of whatever smart phone I was using, and the tasks I expect it to do have broadened greatly since the days of my Kyocera 6035. Without even taking into account iPads, Kindles, and other larger platforms, the activities we now accomplish on a typical smartphone platform are pretty amazing.

wipe or notOf course, many still have corporate email on the device, but almost everyone will also have a couple of personal email accounts that are also installed on the phone, along with Facebook, LinkedIn, GPS navigation information, a raft of pictures and movies that have been taken with the device, probably some downloaded Internet movies, and so on. And, just like the car you have driven the past few years, quite a bit of this stuff will find its way under the seats, into the side pockets, and in the glove box (who the heck ever used a glove box for gloves?). In other words, there may be quite a bit of information stored in places you don’t normally look (until it’s gone). We also tend to make online transactions, including purchases, banking, and other secure sites, which probably stores some fairly important credentials and other information on our smartphones.

I remember the adrenaline rush of getting up one morning and finding that my Blackberry of the moment had just died… All the email, account info, etc. was gone, except for some stuff that was stored on the removable memory card. A similar situation, even worse, is when someone realizes that their phone has been stolen or lost. It is worse, because now any information on the phone, including email, account info, pictures, etc. may be in the hands of someone who has a penchant for taking your money, rather than a job. Two of my family members have managed to “Drown a Droid” in the past couple months. Sooner or later, these events will happen to you.

When loss of a smartphone or the data on it occurs, there are several key concerns:

  • Was the device protected by a PIN, password, or other method to prevent unauthorized access? While not perfect, having a phone protected does a lot to slow down access to your information. You just won’t believe how much information is typically available in a couple years of email!
  • Do I have a method to remotely erase all the information on the device, to prevent its use for identity theft and fraud? Is there a way to track/find the missing phone?
  • How can I recover the majority of the information, contacts, pictures, movies, emails, etcetera?

First, have your phone protected by at least a simple PIN or swipe pattern. Just DO IT. You don’t want the guy who lifted your phone at a party to be able to instantly start sending email and posting on your phone. If you happen to lose the phone, the same situation applies. Some phones have facial recognition now, which is pretty convenient, and reasonably secure. Whatever security method you choose, make sure your phone is locked within a minute or so of when you set it down.

Second, you may want to use one of the available programs that will allow you to remotely wipe all the personal information from the smartphone in the event of a lost or stolen device. Depending upon the type of phone, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc., there are different methods to remotely wipe the phone, and possibly detect its location. For Android phones, Android Lost has been recommended as an app that will allow remotely finding and wiping an Android phone. Microsoft Windows phones can be located and remotely wiped from your user account on a website, Blackberry has always had the remote wipe capability in their administrative software, but it is managed by the system administrator. Apple has a service to find your phone, and remotely lock the phone by using a web based service. Regardless of the type of device you use, you should activate one of the methods before you lose the phone.

Third, recovery of all the data that you have on the phone will also depend upon what steps you have made while you have possession of the phone. You should note that if your main email is provided by a corporate account (Exchange Server), that email can be recreated on a new phone without anything more than setting up your email account on the new device. However, many other types of email, and documents, pictures, videos, etc. will probably require that you set up or activate a backup system for your mobile device. There are many backup systems available for each type of smartphone, and you will have to compare features to choose the one that is best for your protection. Carriers like Verizon offer backup utilities as a part of their service, and Apple offers iCloud Storage.

Mobile device backup has become a growing market, and you will need to choose the system that meets your personal needs. A good place to start is to think “If my phone was ripped out of my hand right now, and would never reappear, what would I need to have on a new phone to be ok?” A second vital question is “What’s on my current phone that could put me at risk if the phone is stolen?” These are questions best answered before your data goes missing.

Now, back to Sudoku. You know, I’d hate to lose my year-long aggregate score….

“Wiped Out? Or Not?” was written by Rex Davis. Rex is the Director of Operations at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to and linking back to the original post.