x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

If your whole life is in your phone, you'd better not lose it

The convenience of smart phones has a dark side: lose your phone and you also lose peace of mind, because there's a lot of your life in there.

'Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel," says an Arabic proverb.

And that is exactly what I have started doing, hitching my smart phone - which has become as valuable as a camel in our modern days - to a clip I set up in each of my bags, to prevent it from getting lost again. Once was more than enough to push me into a different routine.

Imagine this - and it could happen to anyone at any time: I was sitting at a very important meeting and when I saw the others there pull out their smart phones and place them on the table before our discussion started, I searched in my bag to do the same - and couldn't find my phone.

It has become a common habit (a bad one I may add): if someone reaches for his or her phone to check a message or email or whatever, we all do the same. I wasn't even thinking about my BlackBerry until the VIP in the meeting checked his.

After fumbling in my bag and making sure it was not there, I found that it was almost impossible to stay focused on the meeting. I was panicking. I always put my phone in the same place - and it wasn't there.

This is when you think about the danger of your phone falling into the hands of someone unscrupulous. First, for a journalist the idea that your list of contacts could be misused can give you a heart attack.

Then there are the sites you have set up so that you can check them without putting in a password each time. There is no telling what can happen or what can be stolen by the time you can get to a computer and change all those passwords.

If that isn't enough, we also have our social media accounts activated on our phones. So when you lose your phone, you may also lose your privacy on Facebook and Twitter.

Then my mind went into the photos and media folder on my phone. I remembered all the stories about blackmail, and the reprinting of private photos. Fortunately, I have mainly photos of my cats on my phone, but I do also have photos of family gatherings and birthdays.

That is when I got really angry, and it showed on my face. I was imagining someone browsing through my private photos without permission.

That was it. I could not just sit there for another hour and pretend all was OK when someone could be breaking into my accounts as I sat there. I excused myself, said I needed to go to the washroom and bolted out in search of my phone.

I retraced all my steps in that building, all the way back to the car park. I looked under and around the car, and asked the security guards if they had seen a phone anywhere.

They had not.

I had left my other mobile phone at home, so I couldn't call my missing phone to check where it was.

It was all so frustrating, and I felt quite alone in my dilemma.

Finally, I went inside my car, and there it was, almost invisible, next to a pedal. I have no idea how it had fallen down there, but I was jumping with joy. I even kissed it.

This scare was a good reminder that our smart phones have become as important as our wallets in terms of our identity and our most private and critical records and accounts.

An IT security expert once told me that having even just a mobile number is sometimes enough to let someone break into your accounts. As a journalist, I give my number out more than most people, so this was particularly bad news for me.

Seriously, if someone gets his hands on your smart phone, the password can be cracked easily and that person gains access to your life, and power over it. I had an old Nokia phone to which I had forgotten the password, and guess what? A seller at a phone store in a mall was able to crack it within five minutes.

"Here you go ma'am, now you can access all your contacts," he said with a big smile. He hadn't asked me for ID, and why should he have? There was no name on the phone. It could have been anyone's.

The amount of information we put on our phones means we are all vulnerable to identity thieves and other high-tech criminals.

 

Rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @Arabianmau