Security and Anti-theft: When bad things happen to good electronics

The last few days I’ve been looking around at anti-theft options for my phone. The prospect of a weekend in Mexico in a couple of months brought to mind the very real danger of my expensive electronic device growing legs and wandering off while I was on the beach. Given that there’s far more personal data on that little gadget than I’d care to admit, I figured that I’d better look around and see what’s available should the worst happen. And of course that got me thinking about my laptop as well.

Here’s my list of the most useful security apps (primarily for Android, but many of them also have iPhone and even laptop options) and to-dos.

1) Dropbox

I talked about this in a previous post, but it’s such a nifty feature, I feel it merits a second mention. Dropbox’s Android app (and I would assume iPhone, as well) has the option of auto-uploading every photo and video you take with your phone directly to your Dropbox account. It also has a PIN-protect feature to prevent a thief from disabling this, assuming they even realize it’s there. Since testing out the camara seems to be a phone thief’s favorite thing to do, having this enabled could potentially lead you straight to your phone. Similar functionality can be found in the iPhone’s iCloud service, as well as Facebook’s app.

2) Lock your phone/laptop

I guess it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Using Android’s built-in device lock can go a long way towards keeping unauthorized users out of your personal info. Android phones can be locked with a pin, password, or pattern. Simple visit the Settings menu, and tap Lacation & Security and then Phone Lock Settings.

Likewise, if you laptop travels a lot, it’s in your best interest to password protect the administrator account (though a basic guest account can be let un-passworded as bait for users of Prey… see below).

3) Install a “Locate My Phone” app

There are lots of them out there. Specifically for Android, there is Lookout Security & Antivirus. The basic app is free and, among other things, has a phone location feature (which, when I tested it, was accurate to within 10 feet of my location at the time). The premium version will let you remote-wipe you phone just in case it looks like it’s gone for good.

Another good option is Prey. Prey is a free, open source tracking and security utility that works with both Android and iPhone, and can even be installed on Windows, Mac, and Linux laptops. All basic functionality is free. There are also a few premium levels that let you track additional devices (the free account supports up to 3), and provides a few additional features. The locating ability wasn’t quite as accurate as Lookout (I think because Lookout can auto-enable GPS and Prey can only use it if it’s already enabled) when I tried it out, but it had the general area right using wifi networks.

4) Make a note of your phone’s IMEI or MEID number.

IMEI stands for International Mobile Equipment Identity and is the 15 digit number unique to your phone. MEID (Mobile Equipment ID) is a superset of IMEI. It can usually be found by looking underneath the battery, or on Android, in the Settings > About Phone > Status menu. Not only can it prove ownership if your phone is located, but will also be helpful if you need to call your service provider and have them shut off service to the device.

For laptops, note the serial number.

5) Register your phone/laptop/property is a great (and free) tool to keep track of identifying information on all of your property. It will even generate a nicely formated report for you (printable directly from the web) in case you need to supply said information to the police. It also will add your item to Trace and CheckMEND (two of the largest stolen goods databases in the country) for free if you mark it as stolen.

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One Comment to "Security and Anti-theft: When bad things happen to good electronics"

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Nikki Blight – Web/PHP Developer