Keeping Family Smartphones Secure

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Photo courtesy of kurhan/

Every smartphone includes crucial information — contacts, messages, passwords, personal data, photos and videos. Unfortunately, smartphones (and good old-fashioned cellphones) are also very vulnerable. They can be lost, stolen, hacked, dropped and infected with viruses.

In a recent Verizon survey, over half of the respondents admitted losing or destroying at least one smartphone or cellphone. A quarter had lost two or more phones, and 43 percent had sent the phone through the laundry.

Your family may not be able to avoid every mishap, but you can minimize some of the heartbreak by teaching good habits as soon as kids get their first phone. 

Use a password. A strong password will protect what’s on a phone if it gets stolen, is lost or is “borrowed” by a mischievous friend. Help your child think up something memorable that isn’t based on readily available information such as a birthday, street address or initials. If kids object to entering a password every time they want to text, set the delay feature so the password kicks in after the phone hasn’t been used for a certain number of minutes.

Have a backup plan. A phone is a data storage device, and data needs backup. It doesn’t matter whether you store photos and contacts in the cloud or on your computer. Just make sure backup happens automatically.

Consider the find feature. Most phones have a find-my-phone option, and it can certainly be helpful if you need to locate a phone — or, for that matter, a child who’s carrying the phone. Just remember that this feature depends on location tracking. If you can find the phone — or the child — so can other people who know the number. Even if tracking isn’t enabled, you can still erase the data on a stolen phone, which becomes more urgent if the phone is used for financial transactions. Sometimes this feature has to be enabled in advance. To find out how, search for “erase data” and the type of phone you want to protect.

Download apps from trusted sites. Apps are part of what makes smartphones useful and fun. Apps can also introduce viruses and security problems. Establish a family policy about downloads. Young children should get permission before downloading apps. Use reputable sites like Google Play and the App Store because they evaluate apps for safety and reliability before they make them available.

Stay up-to-date. Hackers are constantly trying to exploit vulnerabilities in smartphones. Fortunately, reputable phone companies and app makers try to plug security leaks as they discover them. It’s a cat-and-mouse game, and you don’t want to be the mouse. The only way to benefit from updates is to download them. Be sure family phones automatically get updates.

Install anti-virus protection. Some anti-virus protection is built into smartphones, but parents may want to add an extra layer of protection. Apps like Lookout, Avast or TrustGo can scan a child’s phone for malicious programs and help you remove them safely.

Be leery about links. Several years ago, a security firm found people were more likely to click on fraudulent links on their phones. Teach kids how to recognize phone spam — unsolicited messages that promise goodies. Remind them that they should never enter personal information into a form that pops up on the phone — no matter how tempting the offer seems.

Don’t give other people access. Teach your child how to put a phone into guest mode. Deploy this feature if someone asks to borrow the phone. Then the guest won’t have access to messages, photos and other personal information.

Be suspicious of unknown callers. Young phone users should have a list of approved contacts. Consider blocking everyone else. Older teens should know about the one-ring scam in which international crooks make the phone ring just once. If your child calls back out of curiosity, you get charged hotline fees. The best way to prevent such problems is to block international calls, unless there is a reason to receive them. 

Carolyn Jabs is the author of “Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart,” available at and