NEW YORK (MainStreet)—When it comes to personal computers, most people know to protect their private information by securing their home networks, backing up files, using strong passwords, not clicking on advertisements, being careful about what they download, and taking other precautions. However, when it comes to smartphones, a large percentage of users leave their data unguarded.
A Consumer Reports State of the Net survey found that almost 40% of adult smartphone users aren't securing their phones. Only 36% used a screen lock of four digits or more and nearly as many neglected to back up their data. Further, only about 20% had installed software that could help locate a missing phone, and less than 10% had installed a program that could erase the content of a missing phone.
"Smartphone security is just as serious as computer security, and it is always advised that users stay alert and take the necessary steps to prevent themselves from becoming a victim," says Grayson Milbourne, intelligence director at Webroot, an information security solution provider.
To keep your information protected, security experts advise using a password-protected lock screen, a remote GPS locate, a remote lock, and a remote wipe feature to protect your sensitive data if your phone is lost or stolen.
Dodi Glenn, director of AV Labs at ThreatTrack Security, suggests storing as little personal data as possible on your phone.
And beware: Know that unless you pull out your battery, your phone is always on.
"When phones are turned off, they aren't really totally off, just idled down, so that some low level functions are still active," says Cameron Camp, malware researcher at ESET. "Most folks don't power them 'off' anyway, they are normally powered up around the clock [charging at night], so they almost always have high level communication with a potentially less-than-friendly network," he says.
Camp warns that Androids hunt for Wi-Fi access points, but because information transferred along these connections can become subject to snooping, he suggests considering sticking with your mobile carriers network connection and using an anti-malware app.
Security experts suggest downloading mobile apps only from the official Google Play or Apple Store. There is a new trend for mobile device scammers -- wrapping popular downloads with malicious code and make it available from a third-party site, Camp says. The apps may send premium rate SMS messages in the background, and it may be difficult to get these charges refunded, he says.
And before throwing away or recycling your smartphone, delete the data that you have stored on it, says Adam Levin, Chairman of IDentity Theft 911.
--Written by S.Z. Berg, author of College on the Cheap, for MainStreet