Wednesday, Jan 29 2014 06:00 AM

Tech Wire: How to 'theft proof' your smart device

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Matthew Sgherzi

Our smartphones and tablets have become an important part of our lives. As we begin to add more apps that store more of our personal information and as we begin to dump our computers in favor of smart devices, it becomes an item that is almost as precious as our wallets, if not more so. Because we check our e-mail, log in to our bank accounts, store our photos, contacts and documents all on our smartphones and tablets, it becomes a literal gold mine for any thief, especially if they are interested in committing identity theft.

When we leave our homes, we lock the doors. We lock our cars in the parking lot before we enter a store. We have many layers of security to protect our bank accounts, social security numbers and credit cards from being accessed by anyone who is not authorized. Why not our smartphones and tablets? With the amount of information on them, they become a higher priority target and are even easier to steal than probably anything else we own.

As we continue our short series on privacy and security, I'm going to highlight some precautions to can take right now to keep your smart device safe and secure.

The key to protecting your device is to be proactive, not reactive. Your device needs to be locked in such a way that if someone attempted to use it they would be presented with a passcode screen. If they managed to bypass the passcode, which is not very difficult, they should then be met by a series of additional "walls" they have to jump over. You should have security that protects your settings, apps, files and most importantly, your location settings. The first thing a thief will do once they bypass your passcode is attempt to see if any tracking apps are installed. If they cannot remove them, they will try to turn off your location settings, or the ability for your phone to use GPS. Your phone or tablet will use GPS to give you a precise location of where it is, giving you the ability to work with law enforcement in order to be able to take further action.

The goal is to give you enough time to locate your device or remotely erase all of your data before the thief has the opportunity to obtain any of your personal information.

Here are a few tips you can use on your iPhone, iPad or Android phone/tablet right now:

* iPhone/iPad

If you have any version of an iPhone, iPad or even an iPod Touch, there is a built-in feature to help you find where your device is if it gets lost or stolen.

When you first setup your device, you were likely asked to setup an "iCloud" account using your e-mail address. This will be forever linked to your device and cannot be disabled by anyone else without knowing your e-mail password. However, the GPS locating feature is unfortunately not enabled by default.

In order to enable this feature, go to "Settings" > "iCloud" > Scroll down to the bottom and make sure the "Find My Phone" feature is enabled and says "On". If you have an iPod Touch, it will say "Find My iPod" instead.

The "Find My Phone" app allows you to go to www.iCloud.com anytime you lose your device or believe it has been stolen and find your phone or tablet on an actual map using the built-in GPS features.

It is important to then lock your GPS so it cannot be turned off. To do this, go to "Settings" > "General" > "Restrictions" > hit "Enable Restrictions" on the top. It will then ask you to enter a passcode, which will be used to restrict people from turning your GPS off. Enter a passcode that only you know (better to be different from your screen lock passcode) twice to confirm. Now that restrictions are enabled, scroll down and make sure "Location Services" is set to "On". Finally, make sure "Don't Allow Changes" is checked.

* Android (Phone or Tablet)

For Android, there are several apps that have anti-theft controls that you can use. Many of them do not work or do not work as intended. The app I highly recommend is called "Android Lost". This can be downloaded free from the Google Play app store.

When you download and install Android Lost, it will ask you to go to www.AndroidLost.com to create a free account. If you ever lose your Android phone or tablet, you can log in to Android Lost's website with your account and you can remotely wipe your data, find it using GPS, take a picture of the person using it, sound an alarm, display a message, launch certain apps, change your lock code, monitor what the thief is doing with your device and much more. You can even power it off and completely control it using SMS/Text messaging.

Android Lost is then hidden on your phone/tablet from being uninstalled if it gets stolen. Android Lost is shown as a "Personal Notes" app so anyone who steals your device will not notice any tracking apps installed. You can force this to disappear in the settings if you want to hide it completely.

That's it! After you have done this, your device will be secured from being stolen or lost. There is no foolproof way of ensuring that savvy thieves won't be able to turn off your anti-theft apps. Your main goal is to make it very difficult for them to disable it, which will hopefully increase the amount of time that your device has to relay its location, improving the odds of you finding it.

These apps and settings are not intended for you to use to spy on anyone, and doing so without their consent is illegal. All of these apps are used in complete cooperation with Law Enforcement and are permissible in court if an arrest has to be made and charges are brought upon anyone caught stealing devices.

MATTHEW SGHERZI lives in Tehachapi where he has operated an IT business since 2007 (tehachapicomputers.com).

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