Computer Viruses: Protecting Your PDA - dummies

Computer Viruses: Protecting Your PDA

By Peter H. Gregory

You can apply many tactics (besides using antivirus programs) to help protect your PDA and its data. Get ready for several digital hygiene tips — PDA style! As with your PC, the motto “Trust No One” will keep your PDA and your information safe.

Turning off wireless auto-connect

Many PDAs are configured to automatically accept any incoming connection request, whether it’s from someone you know or not. If you leave your PDA configured like this, sooner or later you’re bound to have someone you don’t know connect to your PDA. Is that something you want? No? Then turn off that auto-connect!

If your PDA communicates by using more than one wireless technology (let’s see, there’s 802.11, Bluetooth, and Infrared, as well as GPRS and 1XRTT if you connect your PDA to the Internet using a digital cellular service such as Cingular or T-Mobile), you probably need to check the configuration for each.

Avoiding ad-hoc wireless network connections

Avoiding ad-hoc wireless network connections applies primarily to 802.11 (Wi-Fi) connectivity. You can make two different kinds of connections with Wi-Fi:

  • Infrastructure connection: This is a wireless connection between your PDA or laptop and an access point — a designated place built into the network and used for connecting individual devices to a larger network (including the Internet). Such connections can be set up with encryption and other safeguards that protect your communication against eavesdroppers. These are the “good” connections for that reason.
  • Ad-hoc connection: This is a connection between one PDA or laptop and another similar device — used for communicating between the two devices. These connections are often simple and convenient but they have a couple of problems:

• Encryption of ad-hoc connections is not always available, and an unencrypted wireless connection is a recipe for vulnerability.

• Some PDAs are set up to automatically accept incoming ad-hoc connection requests, which amounts to opening the door to anybody.

A word to the wise: Unless you rely on ad-hoc Wi-Fi connections (and if you do, you may want to rethink that), turn them off. Doing so saves your battery and keeps your information safe.

Disabling inbound file transfers

Your PDA may be set up to automatically permit someone on the other end of a wireless connection to transmit files to your PDA. Consider turning off this capability — or change it to a “prompt” setting where each incoming file transfer requires your permission. Otherwise, who knows what someone might try to load onto your PDA.

Configuring passwords

PDAs are small and disappear easily into a pocket or bag — and not always those of their owners. The last thing you want is for some total stranger to get hold of your PDA and have access to your sensitive data. A number of different protective options are available:

  • You can configure your PDA to require a password whenever it’s turned on — even if you turned it off only seconds ago.
  • You can configure your PDA to automatically turn off and lock after a short period of time — no more than five minutes.
  • If you routinely use sensitive information on your PDA, you can configure it to periodically require a password even while you’re using it.
  • Some PDAs require a password to be entered on a PC if you try to synchronize files between the PDA and the PC. You need to enable this feature — unless you don’t care if someone steals your PDA and can get to your data by connecting it to their own PC.

Your PDA may have other password-protection capabilities. Seriously consider each one in order to protect your data.

Many people prefer convenience over security (sheesh). With PDAs (and laptops and anything else that is easily lost or stolen), the person who took your PDA will appreciate the convenience you configured for yourself.

Using secure synchronization settings

Synchronization is the process of transferring information between a PDA and a laptop or desktop computer. You either connect the PDA and the computer with a cable, or connect them using an infrared or wireless connection. Synchronization is usually initiated at the push of a button on either the PDA or the computer, or synchronization can automatically take place at regular intervals.

Here are a couple of quick security improvements:

  • Check to see if your PDA can synchronize with any PC, or only with your PC. For maximum security, set your PDA to synchronize only with your PC.
  • Set up your PC so that only your PDA can synchronize with it. You don’t want your computer getting friendly with someone else’s PDA. That would make it way too easy to snatch data out of your PC, or attempt to infect your PC via a PDA.

Avoiding frivolous downloads (or, beware of free programs)

These days, scores of software developers have written programs for PDAs and they’re giving ’em away free of charge (the programs, that is). The developers do this to begin to build a customer base and build loyalty. Their long-term objective is to someday charge a fee for people to use their software. All the software available for PDAs is may not be fairly represented. It’s a lot likelier that at least a few programs currently available for PDAs are actually experiments to test ways of exploiting PDAs or their users. At this stage of the game, it’s hard to tell for sure. But as a general rule, stick with the software brand names you know.

Protecting and securing your computer

Say what? Aren’t we talking about PDAs?

Yes, that’s right. But remember that bad things usually travel from one computer to another — and that includes from PDA to computer, and computer to PDA.

PDAs are designed to have regular contact with a computer. Thus, if your computer is clean — free of cyber-infestations — that will help keep your PDA clean.

So it stands to reason: If you run antivirus software on your computer, follow all the safe computing practices, and sit up straight, you’ll automatically keep your PDA safer, too. (Well, okay, sitting up straight is just a good idea. Keeps you alert. . . .)