How built-in apps, Find My iPad and Find My iPhone help users: Internet Scambusters #455
Find My iPad is one of a new generation of programs that can now help people track down their mobile devices when they're lost or stolen.
Yet, remarkably, many users fail to protect their smartphones and tablets by setting up these programs or using PIN numbers to secure the data on them.
In this issue, we explain how these programs work, where to find them and what you need to know about choosing the right PIN code.
Time to get going...
Using Mobile Device Tracking Programs Like Find My iPad
One of the greatest mobile computing security innovations of the past few years has been the introduction of tracking programs like Find My iPad.
It's one of several measures that producers of mobile devices have introduced to help victims of theft -- or simply those who've lost their devices -- to find and recover them, or to switch on remote phone locking.
As they so often do, computer and communications leader Apple Inc and developers who write programs for them have set the pace with this type of security.
You may have seen an incident reported in the media a few months back when a theft victim used a concealed application -- appropriately called "Hidden" -- to activate the camera on board his Apple Mac Book laptop, which duly recorded and transmitted images of the alleged thief using the device.
The victim then set up a website called ThisGuyHasMyMacBook showing the images, which were also passed to the local police department. The Mac Book was subsequently recovered and returned to its owner.
The Find My iPad application doesn't even need to activate a camera to show the location of the best-selling tablet device. It communicates with you via the Internet to show its precise location, on a map on your computer screen.
It also enables you to make it play a sound (say, if you lost it around the house), send a message (for instance, offering a reward to the finder) or remotely lock or wipe all data from the device.
There are similar applications for other Apple mobile devices -- Find My iPhone and Find My iPod Touch.
Despite this clever innovation, many users fail to set up the Find My iPad or one of the other services on their device, yet it's simplicity itself to do.
With most recent versions of the Apple iOS mobile operating system, these apps are built-in, but if they're not on your device you can also download them.
You'll find details about Find My iPad on the Apple site.
Instructions for the others are also available on the Apple website, while the latest version of the Find My iPhone app is also available from the iTunes store.
Apps that are similar in operation to Find My iPad are becoming available on other mobile devices.
For example, Verizon uses an app that it calls a "mobile recovery application" for Android-based and Blackberry phones as part of an insurance package. Learn more in Verizon's article: About Mobile Recovery.
For other devices, check with your service provider or manufacturer -- or do an online search -- to see what's available.
Android users can also purchase a recovery app (for example, Find My Phone, for $0.99) on the Android market, which offers some of the elements of Find My iPad.
However, we haven't tested them and can't vouch for their effectiveness.
There's one other important requirement, however: If your device is not locked when it's stolen or lost, a finder or thief could disable the Find My iPad or other app setting before you discover it's missing, by simply switching it off.
Then they have access not only to your device but also the potentially valuable information you have stored on it.
Which brings us to our next point -- the use of PIN codes to lock your device.
Most mobile devices come with password protection, usually a four digit PIN (Personal Identification Number).
You select a number that has to be keyed in to unlock the device. The lock can usually be manually set, set to activate whenever you turn off the device, or set to activate after a particular period of inactivity.
In some cases, a user -- a thief in this case -- can be allowed only so many attempts at unlocking before all data is cleared or the device is rendered unusable.
(Again, in all of these cases, please check your manual or with the manufacturer or service provider on how the lock on your particular device works.)
Obviously, if you don't set up your lock in an appropriate way -- and half of users don't -- security apps like Find My iPad are potentially ineffective if a thief disables it before you can make contact with it.
Furthermore, this type of security is becoming increasingly common on individual mobile apps like the "cloud" service Dropbox.
So, as with passwords in general, you need to select a secure yet memorable PIN to prevent a thief from discovering it in the number of guesses allowed.
For instance, consecutive numbers, especially 1234, or four identical digits like 4444, are the most common and usually the first tried. According to one piece of research, 15% of all PIN codes use one of these approaches.
Others use a number related to their address, birthday or phone number -- all easy to guess if the thief happens to know you. And, of course, if you use the same number for your ATM cards and the thief has those too, you're really in trouble.
So when it comes to protecting your mobile device, apps and other items with a PIN code, behave as you would with a regular password: Have a different one for each important item and develop a system for creating and recalling them.
For example, you might start by giving a single digit number for each of your devices. You could even write this down somewhere. Then add a number to it.
So, for instance, if your iPad was your mobile device number 3 and you always add 2 to the number (which, of course, you don't write down), then your first digit is a 5, but that's not recorded anywhere.
Then choose three digits that have some significance to you and again, add or subtract 2 from each. Since nobody knows about the 2, they would be unable to guess your number within a limited number of tries, except by chance.
That's just one idea. With a little thought, anyone can come up with a numbering system that they don't have to write down and thus increase the chances that their stolen mobile device will remain locked.
Hand-in-hand, having a good lock code and using an application like Find My iPad will significantly increase both the security of your data and the chances of getting your precious device back where it belongs.
That's a wrap for this issue. Wishing you a great week!