How-To Geek

Lesson 4: Keeping Your Device Secure

Android 4

Whenever you walk out your front door with your phone, you carry with you the contents of your life. “Security” may seem like a boring topic, but your phone has all kinds of important, personal, and sensitive information on it—even if you think it doesn’t. When it’s so easy to lose your mobile device or have it stolen, you have to ask yourself: why take chances when protecting your data is so simple?

Sure, security is important for all your tech. But putting a password on your desktop is one thing, if you want to keep your kids or roommates from prying. Your phone goes with you everywhere. As a result, it’s much easier to misplace (or worse, get stolen).

Think for a moment of all the personal information you probably have on your phone: photos of your family, emails from your boss, texts from your spouse, not to mention phone numbers, addresses, and possibly even passwords. You may not think you store sensitive information on your phone, but you’d be shocked at what someone with nefarious intentions could do with simple access to your email account.

That means a moment of forgetfulness can equal long days or weeks of worry and suffering. Good device security is a top priority so we’ll talk about everything you can do to keep your stuff locked up safe and sound.

So, with that in mind, this lesson is dedicated to the many ways you can, and very much should, secure your phone or tablet.

Almost everything we talk about in this lesson will be in one place: Android’s security settings. To access them, first head into the Settings menu by either pull down the notification shade and tapping the cog icon, or jump into the app drawer and tap the “Settings” shortcut.

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From there, just scroll down to the Security entry. On some devices, this name may be slightly different—Samsung names it “Lock screen and security,” for example.

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Some of this stuff is pretty simple, while some requires a little more explanation. We mostly want to zero in on the stuff that will help keep your device locked tight.

Screen Locks: Patterns, PINs, Passwords, and Fingerpints

By default, you can unlock your phone with a simple swipe—but that means anyone else can, too. Changing that is first thing you can and must do to secure your phone. Yes, they’re a hassle, but they’re extremely important—and we’ll show you some ways to make them more convenient after we set them up.

To start, tap the Screen Lock option and take a look at the variety of screen locks you can employ. On most modern phones, you can even unlock devices with your fingerprint.

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We’d say that out of these, the most useful to you are pattern, PIN, and fingerprint. Pattern locks seem to be the most popular, but you can use whatever works best for you. Let’s run through your options.

Pattern Locks: Clever, and Very Secure

Pattern unlocks are really interesting: instead of typing in a number or password you remember, you draw a little “connect the dots” pattern to unlock your phone.

When you first set up a pattern, it will ask if you’d like to require a pattern to start the device. It’s your call here, but we recommend requiring a pattern to start the device. Note that you won’t receive any sort of notifications or alarms after rebooting your phone until the pattern has been entered.

Then, draw a pattern on the 3×3 layout of dots to create your lock.

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Whatever you do, don’t forget your pattern. Pattern unlocks have proven to be extremely hard to crack, foiling even the FBI. However, note that when you draw your pattern, you leave smudges in the shape of your pattern on the screen—so you may want to get into the habit of giving your phone a quick wipe every time you put it back in your pocket.

PIN Codes: Easy to Remember, and Decently Secure

A personal identification number—or PIN—works just as your PIN works with your ATM card, but you can choose a longer string if you’d like—the minimum length is four digits. This setting will also ask if you’d like to require a PIN to start the device.

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Obviously, the longer the better. PINs are easier to crack than passwords if someone is determined, but let’s be honest: even a four-digit PIN is going to foil common snoops…unless you choose something simple, like 1111, or something easy to guess, like your birthday.

Passwords: Strong, but a Big Hassle

Passwords will also be familiar to you and will work much the same way it works on your computer. You can choose a password four to 17 characters long.

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The longer the password the better, but we think inputting a password every time you want to use your phone will quickly become a pain. Which leads us to the last option…

Fingerprints

This is a relative newcomer to the security game, but it’s easily the best and most secure—after all, you’re not going to forget your fingerprint, and it’s basically impossible to spoof. On most devices, this is simply called “fingerprint,” but on Nexus devices, it’s called “Nexus Imprint.” For all intents and purposes, though, they’re the same thing.

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Settings it up is easy-peasy: just touch your phone’s fingerprint reader several times while it records the print. It’s good to move your digit around at different angles to ensure the most accurate reading.

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You’ll also have to set a PIN, Pattern, or Password lock in addition to your fingerprint—which is useful when, say, your phone is lying on a desk and the fingerprint sensor is covered up.

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Matt Klein is an aspiring Florida beach bum, displaced honorary Texan, and died-in-wool Ohio State Buckeye, who fancies himself a nerd-of-all-trades. His favorite topics might include operating systems, BBQ, roller skating, and trying to figure out how to explain quantum computers.


Cameron Summerson is a self-made geek, Android enthusiast, horror movie fanatic, metalhead, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys on the 'net, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, chugging away on the 6-string, spinning on the streets, or watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

  • Published 11/10/16

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