Lock out the problems

JENNETH ORANTIA
Last updated 05:00 25/12/2012
Tech gift

SWIPE TO UNLOCK: Our devices can do many things but it's important to know the features that put you in control.

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Sure, you're bound to get the usual items, socks and jocks and dubious-looking kitchenware, but maybe - just maybe - you'll also score that cool new smartphone, tablet or games console you've had your eye on all year for Christmas.

If you get lucky, the idea of locking it down with a virtual padlock is probably the furthest thing from your mind. But given how attractive these devices are to thieves (not to mention friends or family members with sticky hands), it's an important step that you'd be wise not to put off.

All it takes is a couple of minutes. The fraction of time spent now configuring system settings and installing security software could save you days of grief from a lost, stolen or hacked device in the future.

iPOD TOUCHES, iPHONES AND iPADS

You know that shiny new Apple device you're looking at holding? One of its unadvertised features is that it's a thief magnet. The good news is that it also has a robust anti-theft feature called Find My iPhone, which lets you find and continually track your device's movements on a map in case it's ever lost or stolen. It can also remotely enforce a PIN code on your device and display a contact number and message on the lock screen.

Find My iPhone is enabled by default if you created an iCloud account when you first set the device up. To double-check that it's active, go to Settings > iCloud and ensure that the ''Find My iPhone'' (or iPad/iPod) option is switched on. If it's ever lost or stolen, you can log into the iCloud website or use the Find My iPhone app on another Apple device to track it.

While you're in Settings, it's also a good idea to set a passcode on your device to prevent thieves accessing your data or doing a factory reset on it before you can use the anti-theft features.

The other upside to having an Apple gadget is that you don't really have to worry about viruses or other malicious software. Because Apple carefully vets everything that makes it into the App Store, iOS malware is about as rare as a Tasmanian tiger.

ANDROID SMARTPHONES AND TABLETS

Android devices may not be as much of a thief magnet as Apple devices, but they're extremely attractive to hackers due to the platform's huge market share and open architecture.

Android malware is mainly found in the unofficial app stores, but a large number of ''fake apps'' (masquerading as popular apps such as Instagram and Angry Birds) have made it onto the Google Play Store as well. Most of these are Trojans and spyware that can do everything from rack up your phone bill with premium-rate SMSs to forwarding all of your emails to another address to steal your passwords.

To beat the hackers and scammers at their own game, you'll need to install a good security app that scans all of your apps for malware before you install them. Most such apps also include excellent anti-theft features that you can trigger remotely from a web-based portal or by sending specific commands to it via SMS.

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avast! Mobile Security comes highly recommended for Android smartphones and tablets. Not only is it free (other security apps charge as much as $30 a year), it also comes with a highly effective malware scanner and advanced anti-theft functionality.

It's also a good idea to use some of Android's built-in security features. In Settings > Security, you'll find a selection of screen-lock options. If you want to stop your kids from maxing out your credit card on apps and games in the Play Store, you can enforce a PIN in the Play Store settings by using the ''Set or change PIN'' option and ticking the ''Use PIN for purchases'' setting.

WINDOWS PHONE

As with Apple devices, malware isn't much of an issue for Windows Phone, as apps have to be approved by Microsoft before they're listed in the app store. Windows Phone also has a built-in anti-theft feature called Find My Phone that's active out of the box, and you can use this to ring, lock, erase and find your device by logging on to the WindowsPhone.com website.

PARENTAL CONTROLS

Protecting your devices from thieves is one half of the equation - the other half is making them safe for kids to use when you aren't there to supervise them. All games consoles come with built-in parental controls that let you restrict the type of games, DVDs and websites that a user can access, as well as restrict any downloads and communication.

On an Xbox 360, the parental control settings can be found in Settings > Family. On a PlayStation 3, there's a general parental control setting under Settings > Security Settings for restricting the types of games played, but you'll also have to dig into the settings for DVDs, Blu-ray, internet browser and the PlayStation Network separately to change the parental control settings. For the Nintendo Wii, the settings are found in System Settings > Parental Controls.

Apple devices have a number of ''restrictions'' you can activate (in Settings > General > Restrictions) to prevent users accessing certain apps and content unless they enter a passcode. This includes the Safari web browser, installing and deleting apps, and explicit music.

Android doesn't offer any parental control features out of the box, but there are quite a few powerful third-party apps that fill the gap nicely, such as NQ Family Guardian and Kids Place. The new Kid's Corner feature in Windows Phone 8 (activated from the system settings) lets you specify the apps, games and content your children can access.

Doing this is, in effect, giving them a sandboxed play area so you don't have to worry about them accessing personal information or running up your phone bill and credit card.

- Fairfax Media

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