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How to secure a smartphone

Lock down your phone for business and pleasure

Antivirus is one thing, but much more important is to make sure you can remotely locate, lock and wipe your smartphone.

What do you look for in a mobile phone? As well as the ability to make calls - and no-one really cares about that - the modern smartphone hosts a standard feature set: email, web browsing and entertainment multimedia capability (playing music and video).

Screen size, storage and connectivity may change depending on how much you want to spend on your handset. Then it's a question of platform: some will prefer Apple's slick but locked-down environment, with its curated book of apps, others are more at home in Android's rough-and-ready world. Windows is a must for a chunk of the population, on smartphone or PC, and plenty of mobile emailers remain addicted to their BlackBerrys.

What is less often considered by consumers is how secure a smartphone is. And yet even more than a laptop your handset offers up the keys to your email, bank account and all manner of personal data. If you want to steal someone's ID, steal their phone or tablet.

It's a conundrum plenty of businesses face every day. How do you give your staff mobile access to email and productivity tools, without opening the door to hackers?

Ever wondered why so many enterprises run BlackBerry phones? It's simple: RIM BlackBerry Enterprise Sever Express, a tool that allows the network administrator to remotely run a secure fleet of phones, is free. If a BlackBerry is mislaid, it can be bricked and wiped from the tech support guy's office, deep in the basement. And updates can be rolled out fleetwide in much the same way as Windows patches are applied.

Your CEO may think it's 'cool' for everyone to have an iPhone, the finance director thinks Android is a better idea, but the network admin is an avowed BlackBerry fan with a soft spot for Windows phones. Guaranteed.

Trouble is, it's a decision that's almost immaterial. Give someone a locked-down BlackBerry, and they'll turn up at work with two phones: one for work, one for pleasure. Short of putting in metal detectors and relieving staffers of their gadgets at the door, you can't stop people bringing in phones of all flavours, each one a potential Trojan horse capable of bringing malware in, and taking data out. (The metal detector idea would at least stop people nicking forks from the PC Advisor kitchen, however.)

Mobile computing is a fact of life, and it's not going away. Neither are the risks, and try as you might you can't remove them all. The only safe phone is one that's never used. But the good news for both consumers and businesses is that such risks can be managed.

Securing your smartphone: locate, lock and wipe

Whether used principally for business or for pleasure, every mobile device should run security software. But unlike in the Windows world, the principle reason for such applications is not to fend off malware. Indeed, a recent test by AV-Test.org suggested that Android antivirus simply doesn't work. It's not a bad thing to run mobile AV, as the data gathered will help security vendors get a handle on the threat dynamic, but it's no panacea. The threat will grow, so it's definitely worth thinking about getting a major brand AV tool if you're on Android. But even mobile security vendors admit that the 'unsafe' Android eco-system has no more than a few hundred live threats at this stage. There are literally millions of pieces of malware pointing at your Windows PC, right now.

Much more important is the ability to remotely locate, lock and wipe your mobile device. The best mobile security solutions do exactly that. Norton Mobile Security 2.5, for instance, offers a web interface from which you can log in to find out where your phone is. Then if it is in the hands of a crook you can make it emit a loud scream, take a photo of the miscreant who has parted you from your phone, track its location, wipe all the data and lock out prying eyes. You'll have lost your handset, but not your much more valuable data. And just as every Windows user should have antivirus, antispyware and a firewall, no mobile device should be left unprotected.

Most major security software makers have tools for mobile platforms that fulfil these functions.

See also: Do I need antivirus software for my smartphone?

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