Android Tip: Securing Your Smartphone

Category: Mobile , Security

Your Android smartphone is under attack from many directions, from pickpockets to malware to human error and suspicious spouses. Multiple security defenses are required to keep your phone as safe as it can be, which unfortunately isn’t “perfectly safe.” But here are SIX ways to secure your Android phone as best you can...

Locking Down Your Android Smartphone

Your smartphone contains the keys to your kingdom. You don't want to expose your emails, texts, contacts, calendar, documents, photos, and other personal information to anyone who might find (or steal) your phone. So today, let's go over some ways to make sure that your mobile data stays secure.

Lock your phone, if you haven’t already. Yes, it’s a pain to have to unlock it almost every time you want to call or text, but it keeps casual snoops and thieves at bay. So enable a screen lock by tapping Settings > Security > Screen lock and set a 4-digit PIN, pattern or password. If your phone has a fingerprint scanner, train it to recognize one or more of your fingers. In the Screen Lock options, you can set a timeout to control how fast the phone will lock when no activity is detected.

Android Smart Lock takes some of the pain out of unlocking your phone. It’s been available since Android 5.0, released in late 2016. With Smart Lock enabled, your phone will remain unlocked when it detects certain conditions that you specify. To enable Smart Lock and select conditions, tap Settings > Security > Smart Lock. Then enter your PIN to access the options. The options include:

android security tips

  • On-body detection via motion sensors
  • Places, defined by GPS location data
  • Devices nearby, such as WiFi routers or Bluetooth gadgets
  • Face recognized via the phone’s camera, and
  • Voice recognition

You may already have figured out that none of these options is perfectly secure. The weakest is “on-body detection.” Smart Lock can’t tell if the phone is moving with its owner or a thief. Places such as your home or office are secure only relative to public places; you may not want your phone unlocked around coworkers or people with whom you share your home. The same goes for devices. I do find the Bluetooth option useful, to unlock the phone when I'm in my car.

Places defined by GPS cover about a one-block area. If that’s too big for your comfort, Devices may be the way to go. Smart Lock detects devices within a range of about 30-100 yards. If that’s too wide a range, consider NFC (Near Field Communications) stickers. They cost about $12 for a 10-pack, and you can stick them anywhere convenient. Wave your phone’s camera at a sticker within 20 cms (about 8 inches) and it unlocks.

To set up face recognition, a single “mug shot” using your phone’s camera is sufficient. But you should take more photos in face recognition’s training mode, from various distances and under different lighting conditions. If you sometimes wear glasses, include them in one or more shots. When you are on the go, voice recognition is a good option. Voice recognition setup is as easy as saying, “OK, Google” three times in your normal voice.

Just be aware that voice recognition might be fooled by a recording, and face recognition by a photograph. After the release of the Samsung Galaxy S8, one user figured out that a selfie photo on another phone (or even a Facebook profile picture) could fool Samsung’s face recognition security feature.

Locate, Lock or Disable a Lost Phone

Now you’ve secured your phone against intruders who have physical access to it. But you’ve lost the phone anyway. Don’t despair! Android's Find My Device can help you find it and, if it’s not recoverable, wipe its contents remotely.

Tap Settings > Google > Security, then turn on these two settings: “Remotely locate this device,” and “Allow remote lock and erase.” Now, if you lose the phone, just go to Google's Find My Device page on another phone or computer and log in with your Google Account credentials. While the phone is on (and battery lasts), you can find it on a map, make it ring for up to 5 minutes, lock it and display a message on the lock screen, or wipe its contents remotely.

I used this once after losing my phone. I was able to determine that it was at the restaurant where I had been an hour earlier. I called them, and they confirmed that my phone had been turned in by a waiter. Oh, and I wasn't worried about snooping, because it was locked with a PIN code. This feature is also useful if you've lost your phone under a couch cushion and the ringer is on silent. The Ring option will sound your ringer at full volume, regardless of your settings.

Protecting Against Mobile Malware

Now let’s turn to malware. I regularly see stories warning about some nasty Android malware, and in 99.99% of them, it boils down to apps installed from some sketchy third-party app store in China. The first defense against this scourge is to allow only apps from the Google Play store to be installed on your phone. To enable this protection (which should be on by default), tap Settings > Security and toggle “Unknown sources” to “off.” If you ever need to download an Android app from another trusted source, such as Amazon, toggle “Unknown sources” to “on” temporarily, and turn it back off as soon as you're done.

Google is diligent about scanning and verifying apps, but in rare cases malware slips through anyway. So you should enable scanning and verifying of apps on your phone, too. To do so, tap Settings > Google > Security > Verify apps, then switch on the “Scan device for security threats” setting. Now Android will watch what apps do in real time and block suspicious activity.

Keeping Android up to date is vital. Android usually alerts you when an update is available, but you can check at any time by tapping Settings > About phone > System updates. If you get a notification from your service provider that an update is available, install it as soon as possible.

Phishing sites and emails can download malware to your phone without your knowledge. In mobile Chrome, enable the Safe Browsing mode to detect rogue sites and block access to them. Just open up the browser, tap the three-dot menu button in the top corner of the screen, tap Settings > Privacy, then make sure the "Safe Browsing" setting is checked.

I've not found it necessary (yet) to install an anti-malware app on my Android smartphone. But mobile versions of popular security suites such as Avast, Norton, Bitdefender, and others are available in the Google Play store. Install your favorite for added protection if desired.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Android Tip: Securing Your Smartphone"

Posted by:

john silberman
06 Sep 2017

Cerberus works far better than Google's find my device. My wife recently lost her phone on a mountain hike. Location was tuned off. Google had no idea where the phone was. Cerberus was installed, so I enabled GPS via SMS commands and pin pointed the phone.

Posted by:

06 Sep 2017

Thanks for the tip, John Silberman.

Posted by:

Las Vegas Mobile
06 Sep 2017

In addition to performing all of the above, for extra security, I added both Smart AppLock and Quick AppLock to my phone with several crypto-currency wallets on it.

Can you, or anyone else comment or make other recommendations?

Thank you.

Posted by:

07 Sep 2017

"With great power comes great responsibility."
If your cyber-money requires such treatment than you owe it to yourself to google whether software, hardware or paper wallet would be best for your needs.

Posted by:

Keith H
28 Oct 2017

I use "PCMatic" on my cell phone.

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