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Are your mobile devices password protected?

We hear about high-tech hacking into mobile devices, but what about the fact that if you lose a smartphone you may be losing as much personal information as you have on a desktop computer?

The New York Times recently reported a heartwarming story about a lost digital camera being returned after a kindhearted stranger analyzed the photos on the camera to find the owner.

The camera was left in the backseat of a New York taxi, and contained sightseeing photos of Manhattan, as well as Florida snapshots including people wearing name tags. Leads took the hunt to Ireland, back to New York, and finally to Syndey, Australia, where the rightful owner lives. He was "over the moon" with gratitude to get his camera back.

This story has a happy ending, and perhaps most of us would be glad to get our camera back in that situation, but it also made me uneasy to realize how much personally identifiable information was stored on one camera card. I would rather have a locked camera than could not be accessed if it was found, than have a stranger be able to peer into my photos.

The situation is even more crucial when it involves smartphones. They may contain as much sensitive information as a desktop computer: e-mails, contacts, even passwords pre-entered into Web sites we visit may be traveling on our mobile devices. Privacy and security are at stake, all in a gadget that can fall out of a pocket without us even realizing it is gone.

Many devices have the option to set up password protection, but it is not always the default to do so. So my public service announcement for the day is to ask you to dig up the user manual and set up a password, in the hopes that if you lose your phone, your risk is limited to the cost of the device itself.