New Study Reveals Privacy at Risk if You Lose Your Cell Phone

Author: Allison Reilly
Published: March 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm

If you lose your smartphone, be prepared for a stranger rummaging through your data. A new study by security firm Symantec revealed that people who found a lost smartphone violated the loser’s privacy a whopping 89 percent of the time. On nearly half of those phones, the finder attempted to access the owner’s online banking app.

To conduct the research, Symantec “lost” 50 smartphones, intentionally leaving them in a number of highly trafficked public areas — elevators, malls, food courts, public transit stops and so on. Nearly all of the phones were found, and used — and half of the finders contacted the owners. But far too often, those people crossed the line at the same time, the study said.

  • A total of 89 percent of devices showed attempts to access personal apps or data.
  • Attempts to access a private photos app occurred on 72 percent of the devices.   
  • An attempt to access an online banking app was observed on 43 percent of the devices.
  • A “Saved Passwords” file was accessed on 57 percent of the phones

Although Symantec's study doesn't specify that this data was accessed for malicious purposes (were personal apps accessed to find out who owned the phone, or to take someone's identity), mobile security ought to be considered if your apps and data can be so easily opened by a stranger. Here are three tips to ensure that your data stays safe in the case that your smartphone is lost, and found by a stranger:

  1. Use Strong Passwords - Some of the most common passwords include '123456', 'password', and 'princess.' That's easy for even a perfect stranger to guess! Make it more complicated by using numbers and letters, lower case letters and capital letters. Also avoid using personal info as the password, such as a zip code, birthday or an address. A stranger who cracks that code just got a double whammy on you!
  2. Have a VPN - Virtual private networks such as and keep you anonymous as you surf the web. This could be to your advantage if your phone ends up in the hands of a stranger. If that stranger decides to surf the web on your phone for whatever reason, your information would still be protected because that information is encrypted in a VPN, instead of being available for anyone to intercept.
  3. Use Remote Device Swipe Right Away - In the case that your cell phone is lost, a service such as remote swipe can wipe your phone clean of any and all important data. If a stranger does find your phone and does try to get into your online banking or your private photos, that stranger won't be able to find anything. You'd want to perform a remote device swipe as soon as possible, so the stranger has as little time as possible to get your passwords.


About this article

Profile image for allisonmidorireilly

Article Author: Allison Reilly

Allison Midori Reilly is the CEO and Founder of Stirring Media, LLC. Stirring Media, LLC is a content marketing and news production firm that provides content marketing and business blogging services to the small business market. …

Allison Reilly's author pageAuthor's Blog

Article Tags

Share: Bookmark and Share