As paper receipts and mailing bill payments through the postal service become less and less common, there will continue to be an increasing number of wily individuals bent on getting your personal financial information electronically - for unscrupulous purposes, of course. While it shouldn't discourage the tech-savvy consumer from trying new and innovative ways of managing their money, it must be a motivator in seeking out solutions for keeping your confidential details under wraps. These smart phone and tablet apps aren't just intriguing; they may be vital in the war against high-tech theft. (Find out how to spot internet fraud and protect your hard-earned money. Check out Avoiding Online Investment Scams.)
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1. Data Protection
Most of us transmit some form of sensitive data through our phones every day. Whether it be passwords to shopping sites like Amazon or PDF versions of online bank statements, once it gets into the wrong hands, it can be catastrophic to your financial security. Just like the security software that runs in the background on your PC or Mac, a data protection app can prevent the worst from happening (specifically malware, spyware and apps that share your private info with other parties.) Look for a mobile version of your existing software to get you started in protecting yourself on the road.
While antivirus software for the iPhone is harder to find, companies like Malwarebytes has a lite version for iPhone users. Norton has a mobile security app in BETA for Android users who already use their products. Look for companies like Norton and others to expand their offerings in the coming months.
2. Anti-Theft Solutions
The stories of stolen iPads and Blackberries are all too common. Unfortunately, many of the victims didn't know how to mitigate damages caused by theft until after they were targeted. Today's market is flooded with options for consumers who want remote access to their gadgets. The simple ones allow owners to locate their unit via GPS, lock it against unauthorized use or even wipe it clean of all information that could be used in malicious way. More advanced apps can let the owner send a message to the main screen of the unit, along with sounding an alarm - something that could come in handy if the gadgets was merely misplaced. Check your gadget's startup guide or installation files for a service recommended by the manufacturer.
iPhone 4, iPad and 4th generation iPod Touch users can access the Find my iPhone app free to enable GPS-based lockout or location services. Where's My Droid is an Android compatible version that is highly-ranked and costs just a buck to download.
3. Parental Controls
It may be hard to see the need for a nanny feature on your smart phone, especially from a fiscal perspective. If you're ever experienced the painful bill that comes with dozens of unauthorized game or MP3 downloads, however, it's obvious to see how this feature fits. Families who share phones or adults who get saddled with their teen's cell bill would be wise to check out some of the more effective security applications designed to squash secretive spending. Most phones do have built-in password features, but they may not be as effective as a stand-alone option. Several options are available for proactive parents, although they may not be labeled as parent-specific tools.
Most Apple product owners will find that the built-in parental controls of their product should suffice. If they want extra security in their browsing, however, Safe Eyes has an app for the iPhone and iPad for around $20. Droid users can get basic blocking power for under $2 with the Smart Lock 2.0 app.
You wouldn't use a computer without firewall protection, so why would you assume that a smartphone is safe from similar dangers? Many firewall apps can help against hackers and hijackers that may use your smartphone to do their dirty work. This is especially useful for anyone who regularly uses a public or open wireless network to connect to their favorite apps or mobile sites. Be certain that you download this kind of app from a trusted company or site that you've done business with before. (Will you be next? See Credit Scams To Watch Out For.)
For a free version of android firewall protection with over 2,000 user reviews, try Droid Wall.
5. Basic Backup
Making a second copy of all of your smart phone's data is not only tedious, but it can also get pricey. If you're looking for a simple backup solution for the most important files (calendar and contacts, for example), most of the up-and-coming backup apps will have you covered. Look for a company that allows a reasonable amount of online (cloud) storage for free or a very minimal fee. If you're unsure as to whether a service will be truly user-friendly, test drive a few before you commit to the lengthy one-year contracts that are the standard for companies who offer data storage features.
Cloud services that are seamlessly integrated into an app are coming soon! For example, Apple's solution for the iPhone, iCloud, should be here this fall.
6. Security Camera
While a bit controversial, and not as reliable as the methods discussed earlier, a big brother camera app can be a final bit of security against the dark side of technology. These apps utilize a front-facing camera feature in a phone or tablet and snap pictures of a user to help identify a suspect. They have been credited with apprehending thieves, but they should not be trusted for complete protection against robbers. The best security is to keep your gadgets safely stored, locked, and accounted for.
The Security Camera 2.0 app for Mac costs just $4.99 and can be used on any Mac with an operating system of 10.6 or later. The popular Big Brother Security, which was the most notable app of this kind for iPhone, has been taken off the market as of June 14, 2011.
The Bottom Line
What can we expect from the future of security applications? As gadgets change, so will the need for cutting edge solutions that cover all the bases. Luckily, some companies are setting the trend for offering a complete suite of security features. Lookout and BullGuard are two such brands that give users data protection, backups and missing/stolen device management all in one product. Check for compatibility with your make/model. Users who don't want to install or pay for multiple protections just may find a comprehensive solution to be more time and cost-effective. (For additional reading, see Stop Scams In Their Tracks.)