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Top priority: Secure your computer
Make sure your personal finances stay personal by taking these steps to thwart the efforts of thieves.
Protecting your identity

10 tips to computer security

9. Watch your phones and PDAs
Remember, smart phones and PDAs are computers too, which raises two real risks: software security breaches and physical security breaches, such as when you lose the phone. Luckily, consumers can proactively find solutions to keep cell phones safe, just as on home computers.

You should always password lock your phone in case it goes MIA. That will make it harder for a thief to get at your information. Then, call your operator to have the phone locked, if possible, or your subscription canceled.  

Threats to mobile software are growing, so it's important to protect yourself by downloading security software to your smart phone or PDA. Traditionally, crackers, the nickname for criminal hackers, haven't been much of a threat to cell phones because older models were essentially dumb boxes, but now the devices are getting smart -- and so are thieves.

"Nowadays, we are carrying around what is essentially a mini-PC that also happens to be a phone," says Sunner. "Because it is that much smarter, it of course is that much more open to abuse. I think, from that perspective, all the same paranoia I would use with my PC, I would apply to my phone as well."

If you're going to engage in mobile banking, even though banks are trying to protect their customers on their end, you should have some sort of mobile security just as you have on your home computer, says Miner.

"The average consumer trusts their device. But as soon as you start putting confidential information -- passwords, identifiers -- that you're then going to send to the bank, that now becomes information either on your cell phone, at risk, or over the air, at risk," he says.

"People should know that what's sent over to them can be pulled out of the air," says Leach. "PDAs should never be used to send Social Security numbers or financial information. Same with cell phones, actually. I hear people all the time in public giving things, that first of all, anyone could overhear, but also that anyone with that kind of scanner could pull out of the air."

Be aware of the kinds of information you send over a PDA because it might not have the kinds of protections that you think it does. When in doubt, get to a landline or a secure computer.

10. Clean up after yourself
Before selling or recycling your old computer, wipe the system with a file scrubber. Simply deleting files and emptying the trash bin doesn't mean they can't be recovered by anyone motivated to uncover them.

Free versions of file scrubbers, also called disk wipes or data scrubbers, can be found by doing a quick online search.

-- Posted: April 21, 2008
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