Using the Internet more securely (Part 6) – Securing your devices and the information on the device

Physically securing your device

Securing your device may seem like a no-brainer; however, how many of us carry our expensive iPhone or Galaxy phone in our back pocket with the top of it sticking out, or in our purse with the top of the purse wide open or leave it on the table as we eat or drink in a restaurant waiting for the next text notification to chime and pop-up.

Some of the things we should do to secure our devices are just good common sense. There are other things available that you might not have thought about before.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways to keep our devices from becoming lost or stolen.

Mobile devices

Be careful when you’re in crowded areas. Keep your phone or tablet in a secured purse or pocket when not in use. Years ago, the recommendation was to not even take your expensive iPhone out and use it in public in a foreign country. Nowadays, just about everyone (tourists and locals alike) has a cell phone. It’s not such a big deal to have it out and using it in public. You need to have a more heightened awareness when in a crowded area (e.g. a subway) or sitting outside, near the sidewalk or street, at the local café – especially if you’ve got other things (laptop, bags) to keep track of also. Many thefts are crimes of opportunity. Don’t make it easy for someone to steal your device.

Using an earpiece tells the thief which pocket the phone is located in. If you want to use an earpiece, secure the phone in a zippered pocket or bag with just a large enough opening for the cable to slip through. Consider purchasing a Scottevest jacket or vest, which allows for earpieces to slip into the jacket/vest and then connect to your phone, which is in a hidden, not easily accessed pocket.


Purchase a laptop lock. A cable, locked into your laptop, is secured to a stationary object. Kensington and Targus manufacture two of the top locks and can be purchased at Office Depot, Staples or online. Top Ten Reviews has a review on laptop locks.

Consider using an alarm. The alarm goes off when a cable securing the laptop to a fixed object is either cut or disconnected. See PC Mag for more info about this.

When traveling, store your device in the in-room safe in your hotel room. Many hotels now have laptop size in-room safes. These safes easily accommodate my 11” laptop but might not allow for much larger ones. Try to travel with a small laptop.

Consider attaching a label to the laptop with your contact info.

Use a discreet bag. Don’t advertise that you have a laptop.

In general

Be careful when going through airport security. As you know, standard size laptops (or larger) need to come out of your bag (unless in an approved checkpoint friendly laptop bag) at airports in the U.S. – not always so at foreign airports. Tablets can stay inside your carry-on bag. The TSA defines a standard size laptop as 12” X “14”. An 11” MacBook Air is actually considered a tablet and can remain in your carry-on. See the TSA blogs for more information about this. Also, if you are going through the TSA Pre✓ line, you do not have to remove your laptop from your bag. As you go through security, always keep an eye on your personal things after they go through the scanner until you have them in your possession again. See the TSA Blog about packing tips and why do laptops have to be removed.

Do NOT leave your device unattended such as on a restaurant table (e.g. when going to the buffet line or the bathroom) or in a vehicle.

Put your contact info on the screen lock of your device. Some devices allow you to put a message on the screen lock. Do not put your cell phone number onto the lock screen of your cell phone – kind of a no-brainer. Use your home or work phone number or your e-mail address.

Take time to understand the security settings for your mobile device. Know your device and its capabilities and functions!

Securing the information on your device

Consider using the “erase data” feature on your device. After a certain number of login attempts, the device will erase all of its data.

Consider using a SIM PIN to lock your SIM card from being used for cellular phone calls or data. You can restrict access to your device by putting a passcode on it. You can encrypt the information on your device. Neither of these things will keep someone from removing the SIM card from your phone and putting it in another device and using it. Enabling a SIM PIN will restrict your SIM card and not allow someone else to use it unless they input the PIN.

Control access to your device by putting a passcode on it. Many devices allow you to enter a simple code (e.g. four digits) and some allow you to put a more complex phrase on them. Use what feels right to you. See the recommendations for each type of device in Part 3 of Using the Internet More Securely.

Set up guest mode (aka guided access). If you have other people, such as your kids or friends, that want or need to use your phone, you can create a separate section on your phone for them to use. You can give them access to just specific functions and keep them away from your personal information and data.

Use encryption to secure the information that’s on your device. Encrypt the information on your device. See Part 3 of Using the Internet More Securely for more information on this and for recommendations for each type of device.

Download apps that will secure access to certain private information on your device such as photos, videos, notes, contacts, etc. There are a number of apps available that will secure your photos, videos, contacts, notes, etc. in an encrypted area and protected by a password. I keep photos of credit cards (front and back), passport, immunization record and anything that I want to keep confidential in one of these secure apps. I do not have to carry hard copies of these documents and it gives me a record of credit card numbers and contact info in case they’re lost or stolen. I have another app that allows me to keep confidential information (credit cards, medical history, contacts, etc.) secured just in case I need it when I’m away from home. Many of these apps have free and paid versions. They are usually similar; however, the free version will normally have ads that scroll across the screen. Pay the few dollars for the paid version. Trying to use an app with the scrolling ads can be annoying. See the article from Mashable for suggested secure photo apps.

Make sure that your data is backed up

Back-up your files to an external drive or the cloud – this allows you to retrieve your information, programs, etc. in case your device is lost/stolen or you have some kind of issue with your device. I use an external drive from Seagate, which holds 1 TB of data. I back up my Mac, through Time Machine, which is the built-in back up feature of OS X (Apple’s operating system for the Mac). It takes no more than a couple of minutes to do.

Delete files, on your device, that are no longer needed

Securely erase files that you no longer want or need. In the article You can securely wipe your files, hard drive or SSD with one of these free utilities, PCWorld states ‘when you delete a file conventionally, it goes into the Recycle Bin, where it can be easily restored. When you empty the Recycle Bin, Windows makes the space where the file once resided available for other files. But the data from the file remains until another file writes over it”. Wow, that file stays around for quite a while. It may never be erased unless someone knows exactly what to do. In their article, PC World recommends three programs to securely erase file(s) from your laptop.


Use a laptop privacy screen. This helps to keep the information on your screen a little more private when using your laptop on a train, plane, in an airport or any public place.

What if your device is lost or stolen

There are several things you can do, remotely, if your device is lost or stolen. These include locking your device, sending a note to show on the lock screen, tracking your device through GPS coordinates, wiping all of the data from your device.

When reviewing the information about your type of device, note there are some things you will need to complete BEFORE your device is lost or stolen so do those things right away. How-To Geek provides an overview of the process.

See the following for more information about this:

  • For Apple devices, download the Find My iPhone app to your iPhone and iPad, next set up an iCloud account and lastly on your Mac go to iCloud in System Preferences and check the box next to Find My Mac.
  • For Android devices, use Device Protection, which is available with Android 5.1
  • For Windows laptops, Microsoft doesn’t offer an integrated way to track your devices so you’ll have to use a 3rd party tracking solution such as Prey

Install a program like Absolute Software’s Lojack for Laptops in case the laptop is stolen. The program allows you to determine your laptop’s location, lock it and erase information remotely. Their Theft Recovery Team tries to recover it for you.

It’s important to keep a record of the following information regarding your device in case you have to file a lost phone report with your phone carrier or a police report.

  • Model #
  • Serial Number #
  • IMEI # (Int’l Mobile Equipment Identity #) – a 15-digit number

Mobile phone owners whose phones have been stolen can contact their mobile network provider and ask them to ban or shut off a phone using its IMEI number. With an IMEI number, the phone can be banned from the network quickly and easily. It is important to note that swapping a SIM card will not stop a phone from being banned.

How to find the IMEI # for your device

  • Go to the device’s phone and dial *#06#
  • For my iPhone 4S from Verizon, the IMEI number is found in Settings – General – About

Be sure to read the concluding article Where Do You Start After Reading This Blog Series of our weeklong series Using the Internet More Securely.

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