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Minimizing cellphone security risks

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 2011; 3:47 PM

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I've used a BlackBerry for years. A friend recently lent me his Android phone to try out, but I'm worried about its security compared to my BlackBerry.

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A: There are two kinds of threats to consider on a mobile device: malicious software that gets on your phone, and malicious people who take your phone.

Security-software developers like to play up the first risk; perhaps coincidentally, they have a long history of selling anti-virus and anti-malware tools to fight it.

But phone malware remains a rare species, with only a few "trojan" applications surfacing for Google's Android operating system. And avoiding them is easy enough: Don't download applications from the Android Market without carefully checking them out first.

As for the second risk, Google roughly matches Research In Motion: Like the BlackBerry manufacturer, it allows office administrators to erase a phone from afar but (unlike Apple) doesn't build in the same capability for consumers.

You can add that "remote wipe" option to an Android phone with such add-on programs as Mobile Defense (mobiledefense.com) or Lookout (mylookout.com). RIM, for that matter, is working on its own remote-wipe tool for consumers called BlackBerry Protect.

You should also set your phone to lock when unused. Current versions of Android let you choose between drawing a pattern on the screen, which can leave telltale smudge marks, or entering a number. If an Android phone, like most, lets you add a custom background image to its lock screen, you can add your contact information to the picture in any basic graphics application on a PC or Mac, such as the Paint program included in Windows.

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