NEW YORK — The government hack of an iPhone used by a San Bernardino, Calif., killer serves as a reminder that phones and other electronic devices aren’t impenetrable vaults. Like washing your hands and brushing your teeth, a little “cyber hygiene” can go a long way toward preventing disaster.
• Lock your phone: Failing to do so is like leaving your front door unlocked. A four-digit passcode stumped the FBI for weeks and forced them to bring in outside help. Using six digits makes a passcode 100 times harder to guess. And if you want to make it even harder, you can add letters and other characters to increase the number of possible combinations. These are options on iPhones and Android.
• Set up device finders: Find My iPhone isn’t just for finding your phone in the couch cushions. If your device disappears, you can put it in Lost Mode. That locks your screen with a passcode, if it isn’t already, and lets you display a custom message with a phone number to help you get it back. The app comes with iPhones, but you need to set it up before you lose your phone. Look for the Find iPhone app in the Extras folder.
There isn’t anything comparable built into Android phones, but Google’s Android Device Manager app, along with others made by third parties, can be downloaded for free from the Google Play app store.
• Back up your phone: If you do have to remotely wipe the phone’s data, it’s comforting to know that you won’t lose all your important data. Apps such as Find My iPhone and Android Device Manager will allow you to do this, provided you set them up ahead of time.
• Keep your software up to date: Software updates often contain fixes to known flaws. On iPhones, Apple prompts you to get the update. On Android, updates need to go through various phone manufacturers and wireless carriers first. But do install updates when asked.