Virtual Village: How Secure are Tablets?

Tablets are on the rise. They are touch-screen based devices that are smaller, more portable and more convenient than a desktop computer.

The first commercially released tablets were introduced by Microsoft about ten years ago but were not well received.

However, in 2010, Apple introduced the iPad and the market grew markedly. These were smaller, less clunky than earlier versions and had internet and cellular phone connectivity as advantages. Now, a variety of manufacturers produce a diverse range of tablets, including Samsung, Intel, Nokia, Toshiba, Google, Blackberry and Microsoft.

So what are the security implications of using tablets?

The first problem comes from their biggest benefit: portability. While this means that you can take your information anywhere, it also means that your information is far more susceptible to loss or theft. Treat it like a wallet or a purse.

If you have personal information on a lost tablet, that information can be used for identity theft or other nefarious purposes. But there are things you can do to reduce possible problems.

First, you can password-protect your device. This is a handy tool for stymieing the casual thief. Also, there are a variety of applications available that can report the location of a lost or stolen device when it is activated, usually integrated with its GPS. Many of these are available free and are a good idea to download and install. Their popularity also makes them an increasingly popular target for spammers and malware.

When considering a tablet, its operating system is more important than its brand name. Apples use iOS, Microsoft tablets use Microsoft operating systems and most other manufacturers use several versions of Android operating systems.

iPads are probably the least likely candidates for malware. This is a benefit of the extremely restrictive system Apple uses. Your only source for external apps is the Apple Store and they vet them very strictly before release.

Since they do connect to the internet, iPads should have an antivirus, antimalware application installed.

There are also a variety of such products available for Android and Microsoft systems. Remember to match the application to the operating system on your device.

Doug Rutherford teaches computer networking and security for Yukon College and three post-secondary educational institutions in British Columbia.

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