Please, put a password and timeout on that smartphone!

The colorful posters showing up on campus bulletin boards this fall depict unhappy events that befell smartphone owners who work or study at UC Davis. But the outcomes could have been much worse.


"The thief got the phone. But not the data," says one poster that shows a burglar. "Do you have financial information on your smartphone?" asks another, which shows a commuter walking away from a phone he forgot on a bus.

In each case, the owner never saw the phone again. But because each had placed passwords and timeouts on the devices, the information on the phones was not stolen or lost. Access to the data was locked up tight.

It's a message that UC Davis urges faculty, students and staff to take to heart: Please, put a password and timeout or autolock on your smartphones and tablets. Doing so is easy, usually takes less than a minute, and if the device is lost or stolen, you will have protected both your privacy and UC Davis.

If you use the device to access the campus network, the device should already have a password and timeout. UC Davis policy requires that level of security, especially where sensitive or private data is involved.

This message was underscored in a simple, low-cost campaign that the campus conducted through its departments this past spring. Campus leaders were asked to put PINs (personal identification numbers) and timeouts on their own smartphones and tablets, and to direct people in their departments who have access to sensitive campus data to do the same. They reported excellent compliance back to the Chancellor and Provost.

Taking the message to the rest of the campus

Information and Educational Technology is now conducting a general "PIN it" campaign across campus this fall, to reinforce the messages presented last spring, engage peo ple new to campus, and offer help with passwords and timeouts to anyone who would like assistance. This measure is one among many that IET is implementing (including the central security initiatives) to improve campus cybersecurity.

The "PIN it" campaign includes the posters (there are four), tabletop displays in the Coffee House, and other publicity, plus:

  • The IT Express Computing Services Help Desk has scheduled a drop-in session for anyone who would like help setting a PIN or timeout on their devices. Just come by anytime from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Oct. 30, 2013, in the Student Community Center, meeting room B.
  • IT Express has posted instructions on how to set PINs and timeouts for Apple and Android devices.

The Be Smart About Your Smartphone website includes links to general information, instructions, and the relevant campus policy. (Or go straight to the UC Davis Cyber Safety Policy 310-22, items 4b and 7.)

If you have questions, please contact IT Express at 530-754-HELP (4357).

As mobility increases, security must keep pace

As technologies mature, the campus will continue to explore technological options that could activate PIN-and-timeout features. There are currently no plans to adopt that approach. Any proposal that emerged would be reviewed with the campus.

Even so, faculty, students and staff increasingly use mobile devices in all aspects of university life, and phone thefts are frequent enough to spur nationwide calls for improvements. So, using them securely is an important stan dard practice.

No one plans to lose a smartphone to theft or distraction. But if it happens, like it did to your colleagues described in the posters, you can protect your privacy and data by using a password and timeout.