How-To Geek

Lesson 4: Keeping Your Device Secure

Unlock Your Phone Automatically with Smart Lock

While lock screen security is essentially a must, it can get annoying. Entering a pattern or a PIN every time you pull out your phone is exhausting, and can quickly make you wonder whether the extra security is worth it.

Enter Smart Lock. This feature allows you to set specific situations in which you don’t need to enter your pattern or PIN. For example, you can set your home address as a “trusted location”—as long as you’re home, the device will stay unlocked (it uses GPS to determine your location).

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And that’s just one example. You can also keep your phone unlocked while it’s connected to a Bluetooth device (like your car, headphones, or smartwatch), when it sees your face (using the front camera), hears your voice, or when it detects that it’s on your body. The latter could be a bit sketchy, however, since it can’t tell your body from someone else’s—it just detects the movement.

Trusted place and trusted devices, however? Solid choices. Between the fingerprint scanner and my Android Wear watch, I almost never enter my PIN—but it would still stop a thief if my phone were stolen.

Get Your Lost Phone Back with a Lock Screen Message

If you enable a lock screen, here’s an idea: fill in your owner info so that if you do lose your phone, any honest person that finds it can then easily return it to you. You you can do this under Settings > Security > Lock Screen Message. Simple enough.

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Encrypt Your Phone for Serious Protection

Here’s something scary: A tech-savvy thief doesn’t actually need your PIN to get data off your phone. If they know what they’re doing, they can access the phone’s storage directly, using a computer or other device. That’s where encryption comes in.

Encryption is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if you use encryption, then no one can access your phone’s contents without the PIN or password. Your data is basically jumbled nonsense unless you have that info.

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That said, encryption requires your phone to work harder, which can in turn slow it down. This may not be such an issue with today’s better performing devices, but if you have an older or slower phone, it may. Also, encryption is irreversible: once you turn it on, you cannot undo it unless you wipe your phone. So if you do decide it’s dragging your phone down, you’ll have to set your phone back up from scratch.

Finally, if you do encrypt your phone, and you forget the passcode, you are forever out of luck or until you remember how to unlock it. You can never get back into your device without that code. No tricks, or hack, or backdoors exist to help you out of this jam.

For the full rundown on how to encrypt your Android device and why you want to, check out our article here.

Keep Your Cellular Account Protected with SIM Card Lock

Locking your SIM card doesn’t mean you can’t access your phone, but you won’t be able to use it until you key in a code to unlock it.

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This does nothing to prevent someone from swapping in another SIM card and just using your phone that way. Still, it does deter someone from taking your phone and using it to rack up costly bills on your account.

For a more detailed look at SIM lock, including how to set it up, head here.

Set Up Android Device Manager and Track Your Phone if It Gets Lost

So what happens if, even after all of this, you still lose your phone? Android actually includes a feature that will allow you not only locate where your phone is, but will also let you ring it loudly if you’ve misplaced it, lock it with a password, as well as wipe it remotely.

It’s called Android Device Manager, and it should be enabled by default. If not, however, you can manually turn it on by jumping into the “Device administrators” menu.

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Then, if you lose your phone, you can track it from the Android Device Manager website, or by using the Android Device Manager app on another phone or tablet.

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We have a complete tutorial on how to use this feature here. We encourage you to check it out and explore further.

Virus Protection: Do You Need It on Your Phone?

The short answer: no, we don’t see the point.

Android can get viruses, but we think getting a virus on your device is actually far more difficult than anti-virus makers would have you believe. In years of owning multiple Android devices, and installing many different applications from the Play Store, we still have yet to contract a virus. And anyone who tells you need virus protection is likely trying to sell you AV software, or doesn’t know what they’re talking about. (Even if you did get a virus, there’s not much Android antivirus apps can do to help.)

Still, here are a few tips we can pass along to better guide your judgment:

  • Only install well-known apps from the Play Store.
  • Avoid seemingly nonsensical, one-dimensional apps.
  • Make sure you check for permissions that don’t seem right (see Lesson 2 for more on permissions).
  • Don’t install apps from outside the Play Store (also known as “sideloading”). There are plenty of legitimate apps you can download on the web as APK installers, but it bypasses one of Android’s best security mechanisms: Google’s vetting process.

At the end of the day, viruses aren’t what you need to worry about. You’re more liable to be at risk from apps that spy on you, but if you do your research and you pay attention to permissions then we feel that’s the best way to avoid most malware. When it comes down to it, old fashioned good sense will usually keep you out of trouble.

Apart from that, keep your device protected from thieves, and you’ll be just fine.


 

Our final lesson we’ll cover the whole range of data management including managing storage space and keeping your data backed 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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