Physical Security

Physical security is just as important as online security in protecting your smartphone or tablet – and yourself – against crime. The compact size of these devices makes them particularly vulnerable to theft, and accidental loss or damage.

This page covers physically protecting your device and its contents from theft and other physical loss or damage.

The risks

Losing your smartphone or tablet through theft or carelessness not only causes inconvenience and, potentially, expense. It also poses a risk to your security owing to the data you keep on your device, including your contacts list.

Smartphone/tablet and data theft

If you do not take sufficient care to protect your smartphone or tablet, you will make it easy for criminals to steal your device and/or the data stored on it. Theft takes place most often when out and about, such as:

  • Theft from a handbag or briefcase.
  • Theft by pickpockets.
  • Theft from a cafe, restaurant or pub table, either because you carelessly turn your back on the device or a thief creates a distraction.

Theft from unsecured office premises is also commonplace, as well as theft from the home by break-in or illegitimate callers who trick householders into thinking they are from a utility or cleaning company, or similar.

Smartphone/tablet loss and damage

Mobile devices are equally at risk of loss and damage when there is no criminal intent. For example, the following are very commonplace:

  • Leaving devices in a public place such as in a shop, cafe, pub, airport terminal, taxi or on a train or plane.
  • Losing phones out of pockets, including down the toilet.
  • Leaving a phone on the car roof.

Keep your smartphone/tablet safe

  • Never leave your smartphone or tablet unattended in a public place or office.
  • Do not leave your device unsecured in a hotel room when you go out – instead lock it in the safe.
  • Do not get distracted by strangers in a public place when your phone is on a table or in an open handbag or briefcase.
  • If keeping your device with you when out and about, ensure it cannot be accessed by pickpockets.
  • Keep your home or office secure against burglars and illicit callers.
  • Do not leave smartphones and tablets on view through windows and glass doors.
  • Never leave smartphones or tablets visible in a car. Even if you are in the car, your laptop could be vulnerable to theft when you are stationary (for example, whilst parking or at traffic lights).
  • Always password-protect access to your smartphone or tablet.
  • Fingerprint recognition offers a degree of safety, but there is still no substitute for a well-devised and protected password or PIN.
  • Be careful how you dispose of packaging that might advertise that you have a new smartphone or tablet.
  • Be careful that your smartphone is not easily going to fall out of your back pocket.
  • Be wary about damaging your smartphone when in your back pocket, by sitting on it.

If your smartphone or tablet is stolen or lost

  • Notify the police and obtain a crime or loss reference number for tracking and insurance purposes.
  • Notify your mobile service provider who can disable your service.

Limit the impact of a theft or loss

  • Download a security app from a reputable internet security vendor which enables you to trace your device in the event of loss or theft. Depending on the one you choose, these enable your device to:
    • Remotely trace the location of your lost or stolen device
    • Sound an alarm on the device itself
    • Take a photo of someone trying to activate it (eg the thief or the person who finds it) and send it to you
    • Remotely wipe the data on the device so that it cannot be accessed
  • Make a note of IMEI serial numbers to enable reporting if stolen. Type *#06# into your handset to get the IMEI number.
  • When you sync your device to your computer, check the sync settings to ensure you are not transferring excessive data, which does not need to be on the device.
  • Use a security marker to label your mobile devices and other high-value items.
  • Never store passwords on your smartphone or tablet.
  • Ensure your devices are adequately insured.
  • If your device has GPS or a built in location service do not add your home address as an obvious favourite or bookmark so that it cannot be discovered by a thief.

Jargon Buster

A Glossary of terms used in this article:


To obtain content from the internet, as an email attachment or from a remote computer, to your own hard drive.

Fingerprint recognition

A biometric form of authentication using fingerprints. Used increasingly on PCs as an alternative to passwords.


International Mobile Equipment Identification: a unique serial number built into mobile phones and tablets. To determine a device’s IMEI number, dial *#06# on the device.


Personal Identification Number.