Tech Talk: Are You Using Your Lock Screen?

Saturday, March 15, 2014


By Brian Boston

Nearly all desktop, laptops, smartphones and tablets have a “lock screen.” But is it just an annoyance that you swipe or click away or is it actually locked with a pin or password?

An informal poll has been running at AndroidCentral.com for a couple of years, asking a similar question, “Do you use lockscreen security?” The answers are revealing:



According to the data, nearly 56% of respondents don’t use any form of lockscreen security. While this poll is clearly unscientific, it is also pretty alarming. The people who visit AndroidCentral are, according to their demographics well educated, technically connected, and largely within the ages of 24 to 34. That is the same age range that ProtectYourBubble.com reports are most likely to have their phones stolen.

It’s one of those common scenarios that happen to most mobile device users ... setting down a smartphone or tablet and then not finding it. Back in 2011, Lookout.com presented a survey of the smartphones whose owners used the service to track their lost or stolen phones. The Seattle area ranked 2nd behind Philadelphia when it came to losing phones, averaging a twice a year per person.

Sometimes a lost phone is just a matter of forgetfulness. You often retrace your steps and find it. Other times it’s just gone, picked up by others curious about an unattended device or those simply intent on stealing it and its contents.

Why Its Contents?
Today’s smartphones hold a lot of information. Besides your email and contacts list, it might contain attachment with personal financial information, links to your favorite retail or banking websites, social networking sites. To be most efficient, most of us cache our access passwords to these sites so we don’t have to keep entering a password each time. It’s very convenient for us … and equally convenient for those who are interested in stealing our identity and defrauding our friends and family. That might not be the the person who snatched your phone, but it could be person who buys the your phone from them.

Symantec conducted a study called the “Symantec Honey Stick Project” in which they left 50 smartphones in publicly accessible areas like elevators, malls, and public transit in five major cities. Each phone was seeded with fake information, and apps installed tracked the activity on the phone and its location after it was “lost.”

The good news was that half of the smartphones lost were returned. The bad news was how much information on the each phone was accessed.


While accessing some pictures, social networking contacts, or email might have suggested an altruistic motive of contacting the phone owner, much of the access does not.

Can You Track Your Stolen Device?
Yes, it is possible. The key to tracking a device is that it can be tracked if it is connected to the web and the device’s hardware or software supports tracking.

Phones are easier to track because they are connected to a cellular network that regularly checks-in with local cell towers. This and GPS information is how 911 dispatch centers are able to track phone locations in an emergency. While most tablets and laptops are not on a cellular network, they do use Wi-Fi and can be tracked.

If you do authorize tracking software to use these technologies, it can allow you to track and remotely manipulate your phone, even allow you to wipe its contents. Apple laptops, tablets, and phones can use its Find My IPhone services to do this. Windows Phone provides these same services through My Windows Phone. If you have a Windows 8 tablet, look for the Locate My Tablet app in the Windows Store to tie your device to the My Windows Phone service.

For Android and other systems, there are a number of options. These range from a long-time open source project (Prey) to mainstream anti-virus makers (Norton, avast!, Kaspersky) to mobile-focused products (Lookout, Cerberus, Android Lost).

While all these systems can be very helpful, the best course of action is to protect yourself from losing your mobile device in the first place.

So How Do You Protect Yourself?
Start by changing how you handle your mobile device in public places. Lookout lists the types of places in the Seattle area you are most likely to lose a phone, typically eating or shopping locations.


Don’t publicize the presence of tablets or smartphones by setting them on counters or tables, or having them out while boarding public transit. This reduces the opportunity for thieves watching for opportunities to grab and run off with devices, especially when the user is near an exit.

Avoid displaying these devices or laptops in parked cars. If you must leave them in the car, discretely place them in the trunk. And, of course, don’t leave them unattended at any time.

And Lastly….
Make sure you add a PIN number or Password to that mobile devices lock screen. Here is how to do that:

Mac – To Set: Apple menu/ System Preferences, click Security & Privacy, and then click General, Select “Require password for sleep and screen saver.” To Use: Cntrl+Shift+Eject or Cntrl+Shift+Power to blank screen.

Windows Vista/7 – To Set: Windows XP-7: Start/Control Panel/User Accounts and Family Safety/User Account/ create a password for your account.

Windows 8 – To Set: (If not using a Microsoft Account) Settings Charm/Change PC Settings/Users/Create a Password or Create a PIN.

Windows 8.1 – To Set: (if not using a Microsoft Account) Settings Charm/Change PC.Settings/Accounts/Sign-In Options/Create Password or Add PIN.

Windows (All versions) – To Use: +L or Tap User Name/Lock (Windows 8/8.1).

Android – To Set: Settings/Lock Screen/Select screen lock/PIN or Password. To Use: Tap Power Button to blank screen.

IOS (iPhone/iPad) – To Set: Settings/General/Passcode Lock/ PIN or Passcode. To Use: Tap Power Button to blank screen.

Do you have a follow up on this topic or technical question on that needs to be answered or explored? Please share it with me at brian@bostonlegacyworks.com. Your question may show up here on Tech Talk.

Brian will continue asking people if they have are using their lock screens next Sunday, March 23, 2:30 PM in the Stadler Room at Third Place Commons, Town Center at Lake Forest Park as part of the next Computer Q&A at the Commons.  The Topic for this free session is “5 Ways to Secure and Protect Yourself Online.

Brian Boston supported Microsoft products during his 18+ years with the company and now teaches, consults, and troubleshoots a wide range of software and hardware devices for Boston Legacyworks.


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