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Security to go: Three tips to keep your mobile data safe

Ian Paul | Oct. 16, 2013
Data security is never easy, and security with mobile devices is no exception. Here are a few steps to meaningfully improve your mobile security

Keeping your mobile gear secure while you're zipping across the grid is tricky business. Laptops and tablets—veritable gold mines of personal information—are popular targets for thieves. Law enforcement officials, meanwhile, could confiscate your smartphone and then examine the data—merely as a result of a routine traffic stop.

If you're packing an Android device, it gets even trickier, because with such a device, you stand a better chance of falling prey to the booming mobile malware market. Independent malware testing lab AV-Test had less than 10,000 Android malware samples in its database by late 2011. Now, two years later, that number has blossomed to around 1.3 million.

Data security is never easy, and security with mobile devices—smartphones, tablets, and, of course, laptops—is no exception. But you can take a few steps to meaningfully improve your mobile security. Join me as we walk through three of the best strategies. (Note: Click on the smaller images below, to enlarge them.)

Encrypt everything
One of the easiest things you can do to protect an Android or iOS device is to take advantage of built-in hardware encryption. This feature will turn the data on your phone into nearly unreadable junk—unless it's properly unlocked with your password.

Let's start with the easy one: iOS. Owners of iPhones or iPads can rest easy knowing the data is already encrypted, provided you create a passcode from the lock screen.

Here's how to password-protect your iPhone:

In Settings, tap on General > Passcode Lock.

You'll need to choose whether to use a four-digit numeric PIN or something more complex. Longer is always better. A four-digit PIN means some 10,000 possible passcodes—enough to deter amateur thieves (unless they get lucky), but not sophisticated attackers.

To set a harder password, slide the "Simple Passcode" setting to "off." Keep in mind that you'll have to enter any longer passcode every time you want to open your phone, so don't overdo it. A six-character passcode will suffice for most people.

Once you've crafted your passcode, tap "Turn Passcode On" and enter your password. You'll be asked to enter it twice to confirm it.

Before you show off your super-secure phone, however, consider activating the

Erase Data setting at the bottom of the Passcode Lock settings screen. Once enabled, your device will erase all data after ten failed passcode attempts—a good safeguard in case your phone ends up in the wrong hands.

Android users face a slightly more complex, more traditional encryption procedure. The process is really pretty easy, but the one thing you need is time. Android devices have to go through a lengthy disk-encryption process, just as your PC or external hard drive does. Depending on the size of your device, encryption could take up to an hour or more. During the process, you need to have the device plugged in at all times, and the battery must be charged. Otherwise, the encryption process could fail, and you could lose some or all of your data.


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