May 28, 2019 TECHNOLOGY

How Do I Protect My Smart Phone from Everyday Life?

By Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

We get a lot of questions about protecting smart phones from physical damage and loss in everyday life. For that reason, we thought it might prove useful to give you some tips on what to do to protect your iPhone, Galaxy, or whatever phone. FYI, most of the tips in this column will also work with tablets.

The world of hurt respecting smart phones divides into three parts: Physical damage, loss (due to negligence or theft or both), and data theft. Let’s deal with each separately.

Preventing Physical Damage

The best thing to do to avoid physical damage to a smart phone is to keep it out of harm’s way. Easier said than done. We have seen people with smart phones in their back pockets, sitting in unsecured  jacket pockets, dangling on neck straps and hanging off of backpacks, purses, and brief cases. All of those places can easily cause physical damage to your smart phone. Smart phones are like the Swiss Army Knife of technology; but we have never seen anyone advertise their smart phone as a seat cushion! Aside from the fact that you won’t find it comfortable to use the phone as a cushion, sitting on it can bend the case and potentially crack the screen. Leaving the phone in an unsecured pocket can result in the phone falling out of the pocket; a fall that can damage your phone.

The next thing to do to avoid physical damage is to protect the phone with a screen protector and a proper case. The state of the art in screen protectors has shifted from plastic to tempered glass. Plastic screen protectors remain available but don’t work as well as the more expensive tempered glass. Hint: Do not put the protector on yourself. They tell you that any fool can put one on, but don’t believe them. It takes practice to get it right, and if you put one on every year or three, you won’t likely find yourself developing that skill. Most stores that sell the screens will apply them for no additional charge. It will be worth the time it takes to wait for the staff person to do it. That person has likely put on hundreds of them and will do it faster and better than you. Note: Most smart phones come with a very strong display screen, but it is still susceptible to damage. Get a display protector. The one exception: The new Samsung Galaxy S10 plus comes with a display protector installed over the display, so you can skip this step if you have that phone.

You’ll also want to get a case. Cases come in a myriad of styles, designs, colors, and materials. The most protective cases are a bit thicker and heavier by design. Look for a case that covers the entire back and sides of the phone (except the controls) and (this is very important) rises a little higher than the display in the front. That gives the display some additional protection if you drop the phone on its front. If you want some extra protection and convenience, look at the wallet-style cases that fold over the display to give it extra protection and also have pockets for credit and business cards, driver’s license, etc.

The last piece of protection adds on to the case. You can get a pop handle that folds down and pops out to let you hold the phone between your fingers more securely than just holding it in your hand. Do note that these handles adhere with adhesive and do best on smooth surfaces. If you get a pop, test to ensure that it is securely attached prior to using to reduce risk to your phone.

Loss and Theft

The number of phones that go missing each year has risen to alarming heights. The numbers are somewhat varied, but Consumer Reports National Research Center concluded a few years ago that the annual number of lost smart phones approximated 3.1 million in the U.S. and that another roughly 2.1 million were stolen. An older study (2012) by McAfee and Ponemon Institute showed that roughly 5% of all smart phones go missing each year. That study also showed that 60% of the missing smartphones contained sensitive and/or confidential information and that 57% were not protected by available security features. The numbers in the last sentence should concern all of us as our phones undoubtedly contain sensitive personal data, and especially attorneys who have an ethical and legal obligation to protect confidential client information.

When it comes to preventing phone loss, pay attention to where you put your phone (ours live in a zippered pocket as much as possible). When Jeff looks for a new jacket or vest, one of the things he requires is a secure pocket (preferably an inside pocket) for his phone. We prefer zippers but have accepted buttons, snaps, and Velcro. By the way, having a zipper or other securing device does you no good if you decide to not use it. If you keep your phone there whenever you are not using it and it is not connected to a charger, you will have less inclination to walk away and forget it on the table or the chair next to you. Also, be careful about not staying with your phone when you charge it, particularly out of your home or office. We have seen people walk away from phones in coffee shops, restaurants, and bars, leaving them on chargers on tables, the floor, etc. Carry a power bank and use that to charge the phone in a brief case or pocket, rather than plugging into an outlet at a restaurant to reduce the chance of forgetting the phone. Do not place your phone in the pocket of the plane seat in front of you (or any similar location). Many people do and left without their phone.

No matter how much you try, you can only reduce and not remove the risk of loss or theft. Accordingly, you want to make sure that you do whatever you can to recover your phone. We have some tips for you in that regard.

Set your home screen to display contact information (Do not use your cell phone number—without your phone, no one can reach you with that number to tell you they found your missing phone).  Note that there is some risk attached to this; if you do not use secure passwords, your contact information may provide hints as to passwords for your device or accounts.. Generally, we like to use an email address since we can get our email even without our phone, and it does not contain address information.

Most smart phones either come with pre-installed or downloadable apps that can help you locate and secure a missing phone. One of our favorites comes built into the iPhone (I)(“Find My iPhone”). It works with almost all Apple devices including, iPhones, iPods, iPads, and computers. It comes built into the system and works through iCloud. If you have an Apple device do not fail to set it up! Setting it up on your iPhone takes very little effort. You can find detailed instructions to set it up on any device on the Apple Website at: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT205362. For iOS devices using the current operating system (iOS 12), go to Settings, to your ID (your name on the top line of the Settings menu), to iCloud. ” Next go to Find My iPhone (near the bottom of the first group of selections); select both Find My iPhone and the Send Last Location. If you have already signed in to your Apple ID, that should do it. If you have not, you will have to sign into your iCloud account. Send Last Location sends the last location of the device immediately prior to running out of battery power to facilitate finding the lost device, even if it runs out of power or someone turns it off, but does not move it. You can use Find my iPhone to find any device you have registered with your iCloud account. Log into your iCloud account from any Internet connected device and use the app; it tracks your devices once you a sign in and tell you the address it has stored as the last location.

Unfortunately, it cannot tell you what room you left the phone in or whether it is caught between the couch cushions, but it can tell you if it is at your house, your office, or someplace else. Once in the location, you can use the app to ping your phone so you can hear it if you are close enough to it.. That will help you find it if your dog or grandchild left it under the bed…. As a last resort, the app will also erase your phone remotely. You want to turn that feature on if you cannot locate the phone.(Note that, if you do use this feature and later find your phone, you will need to restore it from a backup.  If you do not use it, you risk the bad guys getting your information. To use any of these features, open the app, click on your device and then click the “Action” menu at the bottom of the screen.  You will have the choice of pinging the phone remotely erase or putting it in “Lost Mode.” Lost Mode locks the device remotely and puts a message on the display with contact information (the app will prompt you to provide that information). Note that these features only work when the phone is on and connected to the Internet. If you put the phone in “Lost Mode”, you will have to sign into your iCloud account to clear it and to unlock the phone. If you do not have an iPhone, you will need to look for the appropriate app in the app store of whatever device/system you use. Android users can go to the Google Play Store and get the Android equivalent It costs nothing and goes by the name Find My Device (in older Android systems look for Device Manager.) You can access the features using any Android device with a current system or online at google.com/android/find. You can find instructions to use this app at https://www.techadvisor.co.uk/how-to/mobile-phone/find-my-phone-3610199/.

Data Loss

The steps discussed in the preceding section will also help you with prevention of data loss, particularly the device locking erasing features.

In addition to those steps, you should take the following steps to protect your data against loss:

  1. Password protect your device. Use a strong password and not a simple four-digit number. Strong passwords are longer and random and harder to guess than weaker ones. Ideally, your password will have a combination of numeric, alphabetic (upper and lower case), and symbolic characters. For example: “Beware58693$” is a strong password. Passwords should have at least eight characters. Some phones still default to a four-number access code, but you can change the code parameters to allow you to use a longer number or, in most cases, a combination of alphabetic, numeric, and symbolic characters.
  2. Use biometric security. Most devices now come with a form of biometric security built into the hardware and software. Examples of biometric security include fingerprint and facial recognition (the two most commonly employed devices). While those systems don’t work perfectly, they have gotten quite reliable and you can always override them with a password should they not recognize your disguise.
  3. Stay away from public WiFi. I know that free WiFi presents a hard temptation to resist, but you put your data at risk by using it and your smart phone can generally function just fine using cellular data; avoid using cellular data for large downloads like streaming a movie or upgrading a large app and save that for when you have a secure WiFi system. If you want, you can always get a cellular-based hotspot and use that to create your own secure WiFi network.
  4. Use a VPN. Virtual Private Networks (“VPN”) function as the condoms of WiFi networks. They protect against the Internet Transmitted Diseases (“ITD”) that you can get from a public WiFi network. A good VPN does cost very much and can protect all of your devices while using WiFi. We like them so much that we even use them on our own systems at home and work. You have lots of choices, but our favorite is NORD VPN.

Authors

Jeffrey Allen is the principal in the Graves & Allen law firm in Oakland, California, where he has practiced since 1973. He is active in the ABA, the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association. He is a co-author of the ABA book Technology Tips for Seniors. 

Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Alta Mesa Holdings, LP, and practices Oil and Gas law, Title Examination, Due Diligence, Acquisitions and Oil and Gas Leasing in Houston, Texas. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs and is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Technology and Reviews Department of the GPSolo eReport.