5 Security Tips for Your Smartphone or Tablet

Smartphones are everywhere, and with iPads and Android tablets now leading the market, the next generation in mobile computing is exploding in popularity around the world. But the risk of a hacker stealing your sensitive information (or the device itself) has also risen dramatically. Case in point: Last month, several malicious apps invaded the Android market, affecting 260,000 Android-based smartphones and tablets. (Google eventually removed the rogue apps from all devices.)

Here’s how to keep your new gadget safe:

Smartphone and Tablet Security Tip No. 1: Keep tabs on your devices.
Don’t leave your smartphone or tablet unattended at an Internet cafe or on planes, trains and automobiles. Tablets are hot sellers and harder to come by in certain European and Asian black markets, so thieves are even more tempted to steal them.

If you have an Android-based device, be sure to download a security app that can locate your device if you lose it. For Apple users, get an account with an online locating service, such as Find my iPhone. (It works for iPads too.) The idea behind these services is that the device checks in with the service every so often with the location of the device (from the GPS chip), and you can then use a website or other mobile application to view a map with the location of your device.

Smartphone and Tablet Security Tip No. 2: Set a strong password.
After ensuring the physical safety of your phone or tablet, the next step is to make sure you have a hard-to-crack login password. These passwords allow you to set them up so that after a certain number of incorrect login attempts, the device gets locked or the data is wiped.

When adding or changing any password, make it a long word with numbers or punctuation marks so it’s difficult to guess. To set up a password on an Android tablet, tap the open arrow to view your apps. Select “Settings,” then “Security,” then “Change Screen Lock.” Choose “Password.” On the iPad, tap “Settings,” then “General Settings.” Continue by opening “Passcode Lock” in the center box of options. Select “Turn Passcode On” and follow the instructions.

Smartphone and Tablet Security Tip No. 3: Look out for fake apps.
It’s tempting to download free apps with abandon. But be cautious: Malicious apps are often disguised as legitimate, and without security software, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference. “From malware to root kits, malware-infested applications for mobile devices are showing up in alarming numbers, mostly out of Asia,” says technology analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group.

A malicious app is dangerous because it can steal all the data from your smartphone or tablet and send out spam. Or, even worse, it can monitor everything you do and capture all your usernames and passwords. “You hear about this more on Android than Apple’s iOS,” says software programmer Daniel Elswick, “mainly because Apple is strict with what apps they allow into the Apple App Store, while the Android Market is more open, so almost any application can make it in there.”

To prevent this, download a mobile security app (from a legitimate company) that scans, detects and blocks mobile threats found in downloaded apps before they can infect your mobile device. The best kind will also check for security updates automatically so you don’t have to worry.

Smartphone and Tablet Security Tip No. 4: Watch that Wi-Fi.
Another big tablet security risk is browsing the Web on a public Wi-Fi hotspot or any unknown or untrusted wireless network. Since your traffic is public, there is the possibility that it is being captured. So if you’re browsing the Web and go to a page that doesn’t use SSL (Secure Socket Layer) to encrypt your communication, everything you are seeing and anything you send back (if you fill out a form or type in your username and password) can be captured and seen by anybody else on the network.

Most shopping and financial sites are using SSL for login information now, but it’s still safer not to send any sensitive data over an untrusted wireless network. (You know you’re on an SSL site when the URL starts with “https.”)

Also note that paying to access a Wi-Fi network doesn’t mean it’s secure. Access fees don’t necessarily mean a network is secure. If you have access to a VPN (virtual private network), use it. A VPN offers secure access to a company’s network.

Smartphone &Tablet Security Tip No. 5: Remotely wipe your tablet.
This is probably where a security software app comes in most handy: If your phone or tablet is lost or stolen and you’re certain you won’t get it back, you can remotely wipe all your data and information from it. GoogleApps details its autowipe app here, and Apple offers the MobileMe service.

The App Guide: Best Photo Apps

Many of today’s smartphones feature photo functions, and some are good enough to warrant leaving your old point-and-shoot at home.

That’s not to say you should expect the same crispness or resolution you’d get from a traditional camera. (For instance, the iPhone 4 camera features just 5 megapixels, while the average point-and-shoot today offers 10 to 14 megapixels.) But smartphones bring something valuable to the table: photo apps. “It’s amazing how handy it is to take a photo, quickly enhance it with an app, and email it or post it -- all with a few clicks,” says San Francisco-based photographer Angela Lang.

The iPhone leads the pack in photo apps, with several hundred available for download. Android and BlackBerry offer fewer apps, but their selection is growing. Here are some of the coolest apps -- you won’t believe all the creative things they let you do with that tiny little camera!

Photo App No. 1: Camera+

Lets you … Transform your camera
Camera+ amps up the iPhone’s camera functions. It lets you take photos from within the app and then apply effects, such as “HDR” to make colors pop, or “So Emo” to give your pics an air of drama. The image stabilizer diminishes blur, and you can even turn your phone’s flash into a continuous light when you’re snapping a photo in a low-light setting. The app also lets you crop, adjust exposure, add borders and instantly share your photos on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.

Available on: iPhone (for Android, check out Vignette -- it offers tons of filters and effects for Android’s 8.1-megapixel camera)

Photo App No. 2: Picplz
Lets you … Get social

Picplz (pronounced “pic, please”) also offers lots of filters and effects, but it features a stronger social networking aspect. You can upload your edited photos to the picplz site, view others’ photos, vote on the most interesting photos and leave comments. Browse photos by city and you can even see what everybody is snapping in Houston today.
Available on: iPhone and Android

Photo App No. 3: ColorSplash

Lets you … Add a pop of color
ColorSpash does just one thing, but it’s pretty nifty: It converts your photos to black and white and then selectively adds color back in. Imagine a photo of a circus entirely in black and white, but with a bright pop of color on a red balloon … or a black and white image of your child with her eyes crystal clear in color.

Available on: iPhone, iPad and Android

Photo App No. 4: PostalPix

Lets you … Order prints
Here’s the problem: You have a huge library of photos on your smartphone, but Grandma still wants prints. Instead of downloading the photos on your computer, uploading them on a photo-printing site and ordering prints, get the free PostalPix app and order prints right on your phone. The app lets you crop and scale each photo, print a variety of sizes -- and even print a photo onto a mousepad.

Available on: iPhone (coming soon to Android)

Photo App No. 5: FlickStackr

Lets you … Connect with Flickr
Flickr is one of the world’s most popular photo-sharing sites. It has millions of users (pros and amateurs), and approximately 5,000 photos are uploaded every minute. FlickStackr is a third-party companion app that brings much of Flickr’s functionality to your smartphone or tablet, with a notable addition: It lets you take photos within the app and upload them directly to Flickr. You can then interact with other users, share photos with friends, edit, join groups based on interest, organize and tag photos and learn about photography.

Available on: iPhone and iPad (for Android, check out Flickr Companion)

The App Guide: 6 Best Music Apps

Just a few years ago, the ability to listen to digital music on an MP3 player seemed revolutionary. Today, you can use handheld devices, like your smartphone, to create your own stations or even your own music -- without ever having to touch a real instrument.

“There are tons of great apps for music creation on the iPad and iPhone, and there are new ones emerging every day,” says Greg Thomas, a musician in El Cerrito, Calif. “There are apps that let you simulate playing keyboards, synths, guitars, drums, drum machines and other instruments.”

That’s only the beginning. Here are six don’t-miss music apps that will help you bring a little more music into your life.

Music App No. 1: Pandora
Lets you … Discover new music and share music picks with friends
Pandora  is a unique app that aims to expose you to artists you haven’t discovered yet but are bound to love based on your current music preferences. Just type in the name of one of your favorite songs or artists, and Pandora will create a “radio station” that streams music with a similar sound composition to your device. Give each song that is streamed a thumbs up or down, and Pandora will further optimize the station for you. You can create up to 100 stations, which you can also share with friends -- creating a grassroots following for your new favorite artists.

“My favorite thing about the service is definitely the ability to discover new music,” says Bethany Miller of Scranton, Penn. “By far, my favorite artist that Pandora helped me discover is Gregory Alan Isakov. I’ve been playing his album That Sea, The Gambler more or less on repeat since I first heard ‘The Stable Song’ on my Pandora station and immediately went and bought it.”

Available on: Web, Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, Palm Pre and Windows Mobile.

Music App No. 2: Shazam
Lets you … Identify that great song you’re hearing at the store
Shazam  recognizes and identifies music that you hear offline, such as in a clothing store, at a party or on the radio. It uses your device’s microphone to listen to whatever song you’re hearing, and then it tells you the title and artist. Shazam even links you to a place where you can buy a track and share info about it with your social networks. The app does a pretty good job of identifying music through ambient noise, such as people talking in the background.

Available on: Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, Nokia and Windows Mobile

Music App No. 3: JamPad
Lets you … Experiment with music composition
Touchscreen devices are ideal for music-making, and you don’t even have to be a professional. Try JamPad : It features a keyboard, drum beats, electric guitar and guitar strum patterns -- and you can play all four at once. You can’t record your musical creations, but this app is just for jamming anyway. Looking to record on your iPhone? Try NanoStudio .

Available on: iPhone and iPad

Music App No. 4: SoundCloud
Lets you … Share your original tunes
If you’ve made your own music on your device or computer, you can upload it to SoundCloud  and share it with friends to get feedback. They can even attach their comments to specific spots in your track to tell you a part they love or a part that needs more work. Then you can get on the SoundCloud site to explore and comment on the thousands of tracks that others have uploaded and categorized according to genre.

Available on: Web, Android, iPhone and iPad

Music App No. 5: Djay
Lets you … Spin at your own events
Just as the name suggests, djay  turns you into a DJ. Use the app to record your own mixes or to mix on the fly. If you’re a beginner and need some help, the auto-mix mode will turn a playlist into a mix for you. Plus, it integrates with iTunes, so you have your whole music collection to work with. The iPad version is especially cool because you can scratch the records just like you would on a real turntable.

Available on: Mac and iPad

Music App No. 6: mSpot
Lets you … Listen to your collection across devices
With mSpot , you can upload your entire music collection to the cloud and listen to it anywhere, from any device. The app also keeps your collection synced, so when you purchase new music -- say, through iTunes -- it will automatically upload your new tracks to your music library in the cloud.

Available on: Web, Android and iPhone

How Cloud Computing Simplifies Your Holidays

Holiday shopping has a lot in common with The Matrix. As Neo (Keanu Reeves) seeks to solve the ever-present philosophical question of “Who am I?” he encounters his nemesis, Agent Smith, a powerful rogue computer virus with the uncanny ability to steal others’ identities and wreak havoc on the world. That’s where science fiction imitates life: One in five Americans has had his or her identity stolen.

With the holiday season in full swing, plenty of other “Smiths” are waiting out there, ready to hijack your own identity as you navigate the online environment. Fortunately, cloud computing -- the current Internet technology that allows you to access all your programs and documents from anywhere -- has your back. Here are five holiday hallmarks the cloud allows you to do more safely:

1. Shop
Wise Web retailers have made the Internet a cushy, safe place to buy, thanks to robust cloud-based security software that protects your privacy with automatic encryption, phishing blockers and key-logger kryptonite. A massive malware database continuously analyzes, detects and stops potential threats in the cloud before they get anywhere near your PC.

2. Socialize
’Tis the season to be social, and cloud computing makes it seamless, with instant updates and access to your social sites and tweets anytime, anywhere, from any PC or connected mobile device. It might be too late to mail Aunt Jane a greeting card, but even from your cozy ski lodge, you can access your home PC or photo-sharing space via the cloud and send her a customized e-card. (Added bonus: You save yourself the unpleasant phone call and some trees in the process.) What’s more, cloud privacy protection blocks adware access to your profile information and hides your online activities from marketers and cybercriminals.

3. Manage Money

Not that long ago, many people relied on holiday savings accounts to prepare for the gift-giving season. These days, money can be transferred, monitored and withdrawn in a millisecond -- no passbook required. Online banking from the cloud is speedy, safe and secure, with account number encryption, private password auto fill, and online fraud monitoring and prevention.

4. Travel
So maybe the cloud can’t take away all your holiday travel stress: It can’t cut you to the front of the line or buy tickets for you. But in all other ways, the cloud is your omnipresent personal assistant, helping you stay in touch while you globetrot or motor-hop. Among the many things cloud computing helps you with while you’re away are the following:

  • Information can be synced and consolidated across multiple computers, your smartphone or mobile device. This way, all the little details -- itinerary, reservation confirmations, address book, weather updates, roadmaps, travel docs -- that go with planning travel but somehow don’t make it with you on the plane stay with you.
  • Images and video can be captured, stored and shared instantly.  Even if you lose your camera or your hard drive crashes, you simply need access to the Internet. And voila: The cloud keeps all your precious memories safe inside.

5. Stick to Your New Year’s Resolutions
A new year is upon us, and you have yet to achieve last year’s resolution to lose 20 pounds, save that nest egg or build a tree house in the backyard. Keeping promises to yourself can be challenging, especially when they’re jotted down on a Post-it note or buried in the pages of an old journal. Why not let the cloud carry your intentions for you? Better yet -- gulp -- why not employ technology to hold you accountable in 2011? Cloud computing is the perfect way to ensure that all your nifty new projects actually have a due date. Use shareware like Basecamp or online calendars to write down your goals, set reminders (3, 6 or 9 months in advance) and track your progress.  And by all means, share your good intentions with your friends and family -- all from the fluffy, supportive comfort of your cloud.