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How safe is your data?

I recently had my mobile phone stolen from out of my coat pocket, which made for a very stressful weekend.

Caitlin Hall


unlocked padlock laying over a bank card

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Whilst it’s incredibly frustrating to lose a high-value item like that, I knew at the back of my mind that it was insured and there wasn’t any real damage done in that regard. What made me panic the most was the realisation that—given my mobile phone was in the hands of a stranger who clearly had shady intentions—my personal data had been compromised.


It dawned on me that I’d been careless, concerning how I stored information about myself and my life on my phone. I’d also been reckless with where I’d put it that day, i.e. in a shallow pocket instead of it being safely zipped away in my cross-body bag, as per usual. Of course, everyone should be able to keep their belongings wherever they like, but we don’t live in a perfect world, unfortunately. Given that there are criminals in our locality, we should be on guard and vigilant with our possessions at all times.


I’ve only ever lost or damaged my mobile phone once before—I accidentally dropped one down a toilet eight years ago. Since then, having learnt my lesson, I’ve tried to be more careful, but as with anything, it’s easy to slip back into bad habits. Back in 2014, I was incredibly upset at the thought of being without my phone. I was a teenager, and it was my lifeline. Because it suffered water damage, I didn’t need to worry about my data on that occasion; my frazzled phone wouldn’t even turn on, and I’m not sure anyone would even want to get into it, considering where it had been. I just had to forgo any activity on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for a week.


This latest occasion was far more worrying, The moment I put my hands into my pockets and felt only empty space where my mobile should have been, my heart sank. I started to reassess everything…would my password be strong enough to keep the thief out of the device? Or would it be easy for them to guess it?


The passcodes for my banking apps were all the same, and I’d written them down in my notes app on the phone, so I could remember them when I was out and about. I never once thought about anyone else being able to access this. I had pictures of my passport in my photo gallery. My notes app was a mine of information for the crooks, as it was riddled with all my most confidential details, i.e. passwords, customer numbers, even my national insurance number.


If only I’d thought of these things sooner, when I’d been able to actually do something about them. When my phone was safely in my hand, I didn’t worry about anyone getting into it. But I’d had eight years without a slip up, and clearly I’d become too lax.


On returning home, I had to borrow family members’ devices to call up my banks and freeze my accounts. I had to wait in the telephone queue for a police number and instruct my network provider to block my SIM. Having never lost a phone before, and given that I was understandably upset, I wasn’t even sure what I needed to do the minute I realised it had been taken. Thankfully, my sister, who has misplaced her phone many a time before (but who has always found it again—she clearly has more luck than me) knew to mark my phone as lost on Apple’s Find My iPhone app. When we were able to erase my data on the stolen phone remotely, I felt better. Apple has clearly put a lot of thought into such an eventuality. Though I still felt upset and unsettled, I was glad that such a feature existed.


For now, I’m without a phone, and all my bank accounts are blocked. Needless to say, I’ll be more vigilant in the future, both with my physical belongings and with my data. On this occasion, I just suffered a few tears and some inconvenience. If even there is a next time (because I’m going to hyper-vigilant forever!), I’m going to ensure it will never be any more than that.

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