Mobile Security – Android Edition

December 16, 2016

As we dive further into the holiday season, a time when many of us are busy catching up with friends and family, it is important to remember the little things. The way the snow drapes across the horizon can be especially frustrating at times, but it is also beautiful. Take some time to appreciate friends new and old; perform a random act of kindness for a stranger. Be a little selfish, too – enjoy a mug of hot cocoa, get cozy under your favorite blanket, and take some time to review the security options on your Android phone.

Making a List

To all my fellow Android users, yes, there are a lot of “Security” apps available across various app stores like Google Play, Amazon and F-Droid. But not all security measures for your phone need an app to accomplish, and not all phone security is about software. Sometimes, it’s about the person next to you. Let’s list the basic locking functions of the Android OS:

  • These can be found in Settings -> Lock Screen.
  • Options include:
    • Swipe
      • This lock method means that you can simply swipe your locked screen to unlock it. This allows quick phone access but is not secure.
    • Knock Code
      • Rather than a swipe, this opens your phone with a rhythmic tap on the screen. Again, more convenient but less secure.
    • Pattern
      • You may be familiar with this one – tracing a pattern over a grid on your locked phone will unlock it. This is more secure than the previous two options, but if your screen is dirty, someone may be able to identify the pattern based on smudges on the screen.
    • PIN
      • This locks your phone with a short numeric code, which is more secure than the pattern option.
    • Password
      • This gives your phone the full protection of an alpha-numeric password.
  • Why lock your screen?
    • Locking your screen helps to prevent you from accidentally calling someone while your phone is in your pocket (unless, of course, you want to do that (link Okay Google)).
    • If you set your phone down somewhere relatively safe, it is still protected from prying eyes.

Checking Apps Twice

Another huge thing to take into consideration when using your Android phone is the safety and trustworthiness of the apps that you install. How do we accomplish this?

First, if you really want to play it safe, it’s probably best to only download and install apps from the default app market, which tends to be the Google Play Store. Downloading apps from the internet may seem like a good idea, but it’s harder to track the quality of an app. The Play Store gives access to reviews, and there is at least some management of what can and cannot be placed in the store (though bad things may slip through).

Another feature of the Play Store, and something you may want to consider doing before you install that neat flashlight app you just found, is the List of Permissions. These are the system processes and pieces of information that the app will have access to once installed, something that can be found by using the following chart:

Even with these options, there are still risks – one could say that there will always be risks when owning and operating a smartphone. It takes a great deal of effort to find out who’s naughty and who’s nice. Being mindful about your phone activity is a step in the right direction, at least.

A parting tip: common sense goes a long way in mobile security.

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Gary is a team member at Sephone, helping to design, build and maintain websites. He is also a web design student at the New England School of Communications of Husson University.

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