You don't know what you've got until it's gone, they say--and they might very well have been talking about my cell phone. A couple of months ago, while walking through the departures terminal at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, I reached into my coat pocket to grab my Motorola Droid--and panicked. Where I had expected to feel the cool metal case of my most trusted travel companion, my fingers reported only pocket lint and a couple of crumpled business cards. My phone had gone missing, and with it the security of my contacts, my banking information, my entire e-mail history, and my Facebook and Twitter logins--and I didn't even have a passcode on the phone.
As I stood in the midst of the bustling airport and realized the extent of my predicament, I felt a rush of blood to my head. If some less-than-honest person were to find the phone before I did, they would be just a single finger-tap away from every e-mail I had sent or received during the previous two years. If they tapped on my Facebook app, they could pretend to be me and hustle my family, friends, and colleagues with Western Union scams. In addition, they would have easy access to my GPS data, showing exactly where I live and potentially putting my family at risk.
After quickly checking the terminal and failing to spot my phone on the ground anywhere, I grabbed a stool at the nearby airport lounge, booted up my laptop, and began the arduous task of changing the passwords on all of my online accounts--from Gmail to PayPal to Twitter. But just then I heard a familiar ringtone emanating from behind the bar. Some Good Samaritan had found my smartphone on the floor minutes earlier and turned it in. My data, my identity, and my loved ones were safe--but only because I was lucky.
At that moment, I vowed never to repeat that experience. Since then, I've become a faithful custodian of my phone and all of my other mobile devices. Here's how you can add serious security to your mobile gear, making it harder to lose, easier to recover, and less prone to exposing your personal data if it falls into the wrong hands.