How to Use Cell Phone safely?

Haven’t bothered to password-protect your smartphone yet? You might regret the oversight the next time you leave your handset in the back seat of a cab—or worse, after it’s stolen by a pickpocket.

After all, your cell phone probably contains a lot more information than just your address book. There’s your e-mail to consider, your precious photos and sensitive documents, and all those stored usernames and passwords for access to your Facebook, Twitter, and (gulp!) online banking accounts.

Luckily, you can protect your iPhone, Android phone, BlackBerry, or other make of smartphone in just a few easy steps—and that’s the subject of this week’s episode Upgrade Your Life.

Lock it up

For iPhone: Tap the Settings icon, the select General, Password Lock, and follow the instructions.

For Android: Go the Applications launcher, tap Settings, select Location & Security, and tap “Set up screen lock.”

For BlackBerry: Go to the Options menu and select Security, Password, Set Password.

For other smartphone platforms, like WebOS or Windows Phone: Go to the settings menu and look for security options; you’ll probably find the password lock settings there.

(Note: the specific menu selections may vary depending on which version of your electronic gadgets‘ operating system is running on your device.)

Once you’ve chosen a password (the longer the better—and please, don’t use your birthday, “1234,” or “password”), you’ll need to decide how long your phone will stay unlocked after you’ve entered your password. Longer than an hour may defeat the purpose of password-protecting your phone, while an immediate screen lock could prove annoying for heavy smartphone users. Becky’s recommendation: five minutes, give or take.

Beef up your security

Want a password that’s a little tougher to crack than a four-number PIN? Here are a few options for upping the security on your phone’s screen lock.

For iPhone: The default iPhone password lock is a four-digit numeric PIN, but you can opt to select an alphanumeric password that’s as long as your memory will bear. Tap General, Settings, Passcode Lock, and then flip the Simple Passcode switch to “Off.” You can also set your iPhone to wipe itself after more than 10 failed password attempts; just switch “Erase Data” to “On.”

For Android: As with the iPhone, Android phones will let you chose passwords longer than four digits, with 16 being the upper limit. You can also skip the traditional password and instead trace a pattern with your finger, connecting a grid of nine dots in sequence. Meanwhile, some newer  electronic gadgets Android phones (like the Motorola Atrix 4G) boast biometric security features like fingerprint scanners, good for unlocking your phone with a swipe of your fingertip. To access the various settings, tap Settings (natch) from the Applications launcher, then select Location & Security, Set up (or Change) screen lock.

For BlackBerry: As with the iPhone, you can set your BlackBerry electronic gadgets to wipe itself after too many failed password attempts. Go to the Options menu, then select Security, Password, customize the Number of Password Attempts field, and select Save.

Locate — or wipe — your lost phone

Just about every smartphone on the market comes supports GPS—and that means almost any lost or stolen smartphone can be traced via GPS, provided the handset is on and in wireless range.

For iPhone users, just install Apple’s free Find My iPhone app from the App Store; it will trace lost iPhones via the MobileMe website, lock their screens, sound an alert and put a message on the display—or, in a worst-case scenario, remotely erase all your sensitive data.

Meanwhile, users of Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone can try a handy app called PasswordWallet, 1Password, LastPass, and SplashID.