Guide to Protecting Personal Data After Losing Your Mobile Device

Scott Repasky
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View from the Experts: Protecting Personal Data After

Losing Your Mobile Device

When it comes to online security, very few people pay attention to protecting their personal data after losing their mobile device. Mobile security isn’t a big concern to most people, but it’s an issue that we should all be conscious of without hesitation.

With the stupendous rise in mobile Internet usage that is expected to result in over five billion smartphone users by 2021, the need to make this as secure as possible is more paramount than ever. This guide discusses ways to prevent identity theft and protect personal data after losing your mobile device.

Being a post-smartphone era accessory, wearables (athletic band, smart watches and other electronic devices that are wearable) are set to win over market share rapidly. In a quarter of a century’s time, the very first mobile phone was sold.

Today, 3 out of every 4 people in the U.S. own a smartphone. And according to the latest predictions, over five billion people will be using a smartphone by 2021! The Digital Age is a reality now, and those who have embraced this will be rewarded.

Consumers today have a greater need for security. In the past, safeguarding vital information and digital assets wasn’t as important as it is now. Today, everyone needs to safeguard their information and digital assets, and need to be increasingly security savvy.

Steps to Take After

Losing Your Mobile Device

The following discussion has a specific focus on data privacy and security. It touches on a few do’s and don’ts, but for a better understanding of your rights when it comes to your digital data, make sure to also read ¡The Privacy Rights of the Person in the Information Age½, which is a United Nations document and it discusses the rights of the person in regards to privacy and information.

One may think that data on your mobile device is accessible only to you. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Your data, stories, pictures, and conversations can be obtained and accessed by anyone who has your phone or copies of your older data from your phone.

Today, mobile devices are everywhere and almost everyone has one. The constant storage of personal and private information on a mobile device has become a great concern among many people and it is important to be aware of the privacy implications of having a mobile device.

Should I Lock My Device Right Away and Erase Its Data?

Having personal information stolen from a smartphone is a scary thing. Not being able to access your phone, you can see why this would be a big deal. The first thing you should do is to lock your device and make it look unusable for someone trying to use it. If your phone is locked, your data is unreadable. Best practice is to lock your phone right away, but without your phone in hand, you may not be aware of what happened and what you should do.

The second area of concern is the data on your phone. Should you erase your data right away? Will that stop a person from being able to use your phone? Should you back-up your data? If you do what should you do first?

The bottom line to the question is that there is no one rule that can be applied to everyone. However, there are some guidelines that could help ensure that you have done everything you can in case you do lose your device or it's stolen. To make sure you are prepared, keep the following action list in your pocket to help you decide when and how to act.

Apple Remote Device Location

In the unlikely event your Apple device is lost or stolen, the iPhone / iPad / or Mac computer will be protected for free with Find My iPhone. This free application includes:

  • The option to set up a passcode to require to unlock the device
  • The option to remotely wipe all personal information from the device
  • The option to set up an Apple device tracker to have the location displayed on a map
  • The option to call for help to display an alert message and play a sound on the computer

Android Remote Device Location

Real-time tracking app. You can use the Android remote device location feature to effectively prevent your stolen phone from being used by a thief. This feature links your phone to your Google account and allows you to frequently track and locate your phone.

Remote device locking. Run the Android Device Manager app on another phone connected to the same google account and you will be able to display a message on the lock screen, to call a predefined number, and also wipe all the data if needed.

Factory reset protection. This is a built-in feature that requires users to type in their Google account username and password before they can reset their phone to the factory settings. This is also a useful feature because it also allows you to remotely Google Account wipe your phone, if someone manages to steal it and reset it.

Remotely back up any data. If you’re concerned about your personal data getting into the wrong hands, you can use the Android Device Manager to remotely turn on backup. It sends your data to Google, so that you can always retrieve it if needed.

Remote Device Location:

Nontraditional Means

We may not all have the GPS enabled smartphone tracking app, but if you’re truly worried about losing your device, there are a few options out there. If you’ve lost or misplaced your phone, you can try to locate the phone by performing the following tasks:

Call Your Device

If your phone is on, it will ring. Directly calling your phone will help you determine its location more easily than trying to find it solely through GPS tracking.

Change Credentials

If you use social media such as Facebook or Google+ to log into your phone, you can remotely change your credentials through their respective apps and prevent anyone from accessing your information in the event that you lose your device.

Hire an Expert

If you haven’t been successful in tracking your phone beyond basic methods, consider hiring a professional to track it down. They’re more likely to find your device than you are, and they will charge a fraction of what it would cost to replace your phone. Review their reviews before hiring them and give them a call to discuss your request and the process.

Two-Factor Authentication and a Lost Mobile Device

Phish your passwords everywhere [1]! If you are like many people, you do not think all that much about your passwords. That is, until you no longer have immediate access to your employer’s password. Or, when you discover that your personal email was hacked and used to send out scams. These problems can greatly degrade your life, that is, if you do not have a next-level password strategy. The best way to avoid or resolve issues like these is to use methods that prove authentication of your identity.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is one of the best ways to prove your identity to a service or system. For example, when 2FA is enabled on your computer, as an extra layer of security, a unique code is sent to your phone via text message. You must input this code before you can access your computer. This is what we mean by authentication. First, you verify your identity by providing a password. Second, you verify your identity via the unique code that was sent to your mobile device.

For your purposes, a mobile device is a cell phone, smart phone, tablet, etc. It is the single most important thing to protect after you sign up for their email account. In the event that you lose that mobile device or it is stolen, most email providers are willing to issue you a new one if you can prove your identity via 2FA.

Passwords and the Long Term

The biggest and most important piece of data you hold is your phone and therefore you need to protect this information as best you can. The information we hold on our phones is highly personal and private and losing your mobile device means you have to think about how to protect this information in the long term.

There are a number of steps you can take to help keep your phone secure if you are to lose it or it is stolen.

Use a Pin to Lock Your Phone

If your phone has a pin lock that can be enabled, then it's the first thing that you should do, especially if you store any sensitive information on your phone. This will prevent anyone from accessing your personal email and apps on your phone that could contain financial information, usernames, passwords, calendar and address book entries.

“An Ounce of Prevention

Is Worth a Pound of Cure”: Phone Locks, Password Managers, Data
Backups and More

The best way to protect data on your mobile devices is to take action BEFORE you lose your device. By taking appropriate precautions, you can significantly reduce the chances of identity theft OR at least be more prepared to address it if it does happen. Once you lose your phone, it can be much, much more difficult to protect your identity.

Here are some ways to help protect you and your data.

  • • Use an APP to lock your phone: This is the simplest and best way to protect your data. Make sure your device lock is password protected!
  • • Password protect your phone so that if your phone is missing and turned on, your private accounts and photos are protected.
  • • Install an anti-theft APP from the Play store. The Android Play store offers multiple options. Many functioning phones can be tracked and remotely locked, wiped or erased. Some phones even have the microphone turned on so that you can listen for phone thieves and get video.
  • • Backup your data: You should back up your data often. Review all of your accounts, i.e. Google and Apple accounts, to be sure that no data was stored on your device.

Phone Locks and Passcodes

If you ever lose your phone, you should immediately ensure that it is locked, to prevent someone else from accessing it. In fact, people who lose their phones may not even know that there is a lock option on the device. In addition to locking your phone, you also should disable all apps on the device and check any cloud services you may have uploaded photos to.

Here are a few tips and things you should know to protect your phone and data:

Locking your phone: Most phones come with an automatic lock feature, which you can set to be as soon as you turn off the screen or as soon as you set it down. This prevents others from accessing the phone, even if they try to reset it to factory settings. If you don’t know how to set this option, you can search your phone’s name plus new lock, or call your phone provider. In general, set this feature to lock within seconds of turning off the screen. Ideally, you should lock your phone when you’re not using it at all.

Software Updates

One of the easiest ways to harden your mobile device’s data protection is to install the latest software updates. These updates typically come with fundamental fixes for holes and vulnerabilities in the operating system that tend to get exploited by malicious software and spyware. You should get notifications regarding smartphone software updates. The notifications may appear as pop-ups or as text messages on your smartphone. Keep in mind that you should avoid downloading software updates that have not been officially released by the company that is responsible for the software.

Many hand held devices are purchased with a manufacturer warranty that can cover the replacement of devices that have become corrupt and are no longer able to operate. Some cell phone companies offer software update plans with monthly fees.

Turning on the device where your data is being stored, a secure lock feature protects the data from malicious access. It’s a good idea to take habit of logging out of applications and programs, when you’re completed using them. This ensures that the data being stored on your smartphone or mobile device isn’t able to be accessed by others.

Data Backups

When you lose a mobile device, it’s a tool of convenience, communication and information. You’re also losing access to contacts, calendars, documents, financial information and pictures. The sheer amount of data that can be lost is just too much. That’s why it’s important to have a backup of your data. It’s your only option when you lose your mobile device.

Don’t rely on the device’s internal memory to back up your data. It’s not enough storage space to save all your information and it requires connectivity. Sync your data with your computer, or better yet, create an account with a cloud storage company. Since you’re storing your data in the cloud, it’s accessible from your home computer, another mobile phone and from any computer with internet access. Backing up to the cloud also protects you in case something happens to your mobile device.

Your personal data is also a theft target. Protect it with your mobile phone insurance or a credit/debit card with a fraud protection service.

Other Proactive Data Security Measures

To protect the data stored in the device, make sure the device is password protected. Most phones today come with a security feature that allows you to password protect your device and restrict access to your personal data to unauthorized users.

Many phones also have a feature to wipe data stored in the device after a certain number of failed password attempts. The number of bad password attempts is usually user-definable.

Most importantly, back up your data in the device. If the device is lost or stolen, making copies of the data stored in it can save you from an irreversible loss. Backing up data in the device requires the presence of an external SD card. Some handsets don’t include one, so make sure to check with your device’s manufacturer if an external SD card is part of your device before loss.

After backing up the data, make sure to use the feature that encrypts your data to prevent unauthorized access.

Employers and Your Personal Data

One of the exceptions to privacy laws that protect your personal data is that what you do at work is – in general – the property of your employer. The privacy rights of employers can be found in the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act which was first passed in the 1960s. Unfortunately for employees, and good for employers, there is a general bias in favor of employers when most privacy laws are interpreted. After losing your mobile device, be sure to consider this when deleting any company data or information.

Protecting Personal Data After Losing Your Mobile Device

Are you worried about the security of your personal data after losing your mobile device? Your mobile device certainly includes plenty of information you would rather not lose. Save yourself stress later by following these tips for protecting your personal data on your mobile device. This should be your go-to guide for when your device is lost or stolen.

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