Know how to protect your phone this holiday season

There's never a good time to lose your phone – or have it stolen. But amid the hustle and bustle of the holidays, the odds of something happening to your phone increase substantially. Have you taken the appropriate steps to ensure that you can recover your smartphone if it’s lost or stolen?

Thankfully, getting your phone ready for the worst is both simple and free. And you’ll get significant peace of mind from prepping for the worst.

Lock your phone with a passcode. This is a simple and effective way to keep a lost phone from becoming the gateway to identity theft, but a staggering number of people leave their phone unlocked all the time. According to security firm Sophos, 67 percent of users don’t bother with a passcode. Even a 4-digit passcode (as long as it’s not stupidly obvious, like 0000) can dramatically improve your security. 

Display your contact information. If you simply misplace your phone or leave it behind in a public location, no single precaution can better ensure your phone will get back to you than simply displaying your contact information on the lock screen. Not all smartphones have the ability to do this automatically, but app stores are brimming with tools that will add this capability for you. On the iPhone, check out the If Found Lock Screen. If you have an Android device, though, you can simply add Owner Information from Security in Settings. Be sure to include an email address as well as a different phone number to make it easy for a Good Samaritan to reach you.

Know how to remotely track and wipe your phone. If you fear that your phone has been stolen, the smart play is to remotely wipe its contents. Thankfully, both Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) make this easy to do. If you have an iPhone, you can use Apple’s Find My Phone service (available as an iOS app or on the web as part of iCloud.) Here, you can track the location of your phone, make it ring and completely wipe the device. On the Android front, you can rely on the Android Device Manager to do the same things.

Disable Control Center on the iPhone. If you have an iPhone, you might want to take the precaution right now of disabling the Control Center (the new swipe-up quick access settings screen in iOS 6). You don’t need to turn it off completely, but it’s a smart idea to disable access to it from the Lock Screen, so a thief can’t immediately put the phone in Airplane Mode (which prevents you from tracking or wiping the phone). You can do this from the Control Center option in Settings.