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A condom for your smartphone?

This week’s Blackberry fiasco has got me thinking. The first thing that comes to mind is the term ‘epic fail’, and how this is a lesson on what not to do when doing PR damage control. But then I got to thinking about smartphone security. The three pillars of information security are availability, integrity and confidentiality. Blackberry has long been heralded as the leader when it comes to security in the smartphone world, but how secure can it be when access to mission critical info such as e-mail is not available? This week may just be the proverbial nail in the coffin for RIM.

Anyway, remember when a phone was merely a device to place and receive calls? Back then, the only security concern was whether your parents were listening in on the other line. Today, we’re all essentially carrying powerful computers in our pockets (yes it is, and yes, I’m also happy to see you).

From a security perspective, as a general rule, the Blackberry is (or, at least before this week, was) probably the most secure smartphone out there. The iPhone is next, especially those running the just-released iOS 5 - which reportedly boasts stronger security. Windows Phone and Android are known as the least secure, but do you really know anyone with a Windows Phone-powered smartphone? I don’t. Microsoft needs to give up on running Windows on phones and concentrate on making Windows 8 even better.

There is nothing wrong with owning an Android phone. I actually love the operating system, although I do have my reservations. My main concerns for Android users is security; earlier this year the Android operating system was a target of a Trojan that records phone conversations to steal data. Smartphone security is a serious issue, so let’s cover some specific tips and tricks.

But does security for my Blackberry, iPhone, or Android device really matter, you ask? The answers are yes, indeed, certainly and absolutely. The reason we don’t normally think about protecting our smartphone is because the threats aren’t exactly visible; they range from the good old I-lost-my-phone-and-now-you’re-reading-my-e-mails to more technical issues such as Trojans, viruses (virii? Vinklevii?) and evil apps that steal your data.

Following are three very specific tips to protect yourself:

  • For heaven’s sake, don’t lose your phone. Because I’m rarely one to resist belaboring the obvious, try to keep an eye on it when it’s out in the open and don’t leave it unattended or forget where you put it.

  • Set a password to unlock the phone. Yes, this may be a royal ain in the pass, but if you have sensitive data on there you’ll want to at least think about this. Here’s how to set a password for all the different phones:

    • iPhone: Settings>General>Passcode Lock

    • Blackberry: Options>Security Options>General Settings

    • Android: Menu>Settings>Locations and Security>Screen Unlock

    • Windows Phone 7: Settings>Lock and Wallpapers

  • Install a security App for added protection. I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but it’s probably a good idea to start using security software for your phone.

    • iPhone: Although iPhone users are probably the most immune to evil apps and viruses, you should consider the Trend Smart Surfing app, which blocks access to websites known to contain malware.

    • Blackberry, Android and Windows Phone 7: The Lookout Mobile Security app is the best reviewed app out there, and should be a no-brainer.

Using your smartphone should be fun; we shouldn’t have to worry about all this security crap. But we do, and, back to the column’s headline, we should think of the extra precautions as a condom for that added layer of protection. It may not be foolproof, but we gotta do what we gotta do. If that analogy doesn’t float your boat, think of these precautions as the fertilizer that helps the relationship with our smartphones blossom.

Note: iOS 5 and iCloud are out this week from Apple, but by the time you read this I would have only had about a day to play around (so far so good, with slight reservations). Look for a more in-depth analysis in next week’s column.

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Each week, Tech Soup will be written by a member of the Okanagan's burgeoning first-rate technology community. We already have a few regular contributors, but if you're interested in writing a tech piece for this weekly column, send us an email to [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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