E-mails, contacts, appointments, music, photos: most BlackBerry smartphone owners keep their lives on their smartphones. And that information is vulnerable if not locked up safely. How real is the danger?

Consider this scenario: a man loses his BlackBerry on the Gautrain on the way to the airport. There is no password and plenty of private information available on the device. His company's IT department remotely wipes the data before any harm is done, and the data is safe.
Luckily, every BlackBerry smartphone includes many easy-to-use security features that go a long way toward protecting private information from prying eyes. To get that protection, just follow the simple checklist below:
* Secure the BlackBerry and its data – do this by using a strong password. Setting a strong password is the easiest and most effective way to lock down private data. Without a password, much of the data is accessible to prying eyes. With a password, users are far more secure. Passwords must be four to 14 characters in length, and cannot be identical characters (1111) or sequences (1234).
* Set the number of password attempts –  if a password is typed incorrectly 10 consecutive times, all of the information on the BlackBerry smartphone is automatically deleted. This is a security feature. Users can change the number of attempts to a number between three and 10.
* Lock the phone automatically after a certain amount of time – users should set the Security Timeout feature to automatically lock their smartphones after a set period of inactivity (maximum of one hour). For lost or stolen smartphones, this is a critical security block.
* Encrypt data on the BlackBerry smartphone and media card – encryption mixes everything up so no one but the user can read anything without the correct password.
* Lockdown Bluetooth – Bluetooth is a terrific way to connect to other devices for hands-free talking, or to play music wirelessly. But Bluetooth also adds a potential entry for malicious hackers.
Luckily, changing a simple setting can block most threats. The key is to make the BlackBerry smartphone undiscoverable, or invisible, to other Bluetooth devices. Users can temporarily reset this setting to "yes" when they wish to allow a new Bluetooth device to connect with their BlackBerry smartphone.
* Download BlackBerry Protect from BlackBerry App World –  BlackBerry Protect is a free application available from BlackBerry App World, which allows users to wirelessly backup, restore and locate their BlackBerry smartphones.
If a BlackBerry is lost or stolen, BlackBerry Protect allows users to remotely wipe or lock the device, view a "lost and found" screen, locate their device on a map, remotely activate the BlackBerry smartphone loud ringer, and wirelessly backup and restore their device.
Just by following the checklist above, personal data will be locked down. A BlackBerry smartphone can protect user data in other ways too. Here are some examples:
* The anti-spam system helps block spam e-mails sent to a smartphone.
* There is secure browsing to shopping and banking sites using SSL encryption.
* Attachments are rendered into safe formats to help protect users from malicious code.
* Applications received in e-mail cannot run on the smartphone.
* By default, a BlackBerry smartphone continually removes sensitive data from temporary memory.
If users want to learn more about mobile information security, visit the BlackBerry stand at the ITWeb Security Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre, from 10 to 11 May 2011.