From pickpockets to malware, your Android phone is under siege from all sides. Wily attackers are continually switching up their tactics in hopes of taking control of your device. There are plenty of ways to keep your Android handset safe from the most common security threats, all with a minimum of effort. Just as a deadbolt will prevent a casual thief, so will a passcode foil a pickpocket, while the right security settings can keep most malware-infected apps at bay.
Here are some of the best practices for securing your phone, along with a few helpful tips that could make your life easier.
Enable Remote Tracking, Locking, and Wiping
The prospect of losing our smartphones, or having them stolen, fills us with dread. For those that don’t lock their devices, it brings the risk of someone accessing their accounts for nefarious purposes. All of which are good reasons why you should use Google’s ‘Find My Device‘ app, which until recently was called Android Device Manager.
Once it’s set up, you’ll be able to locate your handset (providing it’s turned on and has a wireless signal) and ring, lock, or wipe the phone. It’s a feature you’ll be grateful for if the worst ever happens.
Use a Screen Lock (if you haven’t already)
Probably the most basic yet important security feature is one that often gets ignored. Typing in a PIN code or pattern every time you want to use your phone can be annoying, true, but the hassle is worth it should the device ever be stolen or lost. Plus, a huge number of handsets now come with easy-to-set-up fingerprint scanners, so there’s no excuse not to use the feature.
Go to Settings> Lock Screen and Security > Screen Lock Type to set up the system you want to use. It’s also advisable to activate the ‘lock automatically’ feature, which locks the screen five seconds after it turns off automatically.
Keep Everything Up to Date
It may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t keep their Android operating system and apps up to date. Doing so means Google can patch newly discovered vulnerabilities in the OS, while devs can remove bugs and secure their applications.
In the Play Store, go to Settings > Auto-update apps and choose to either update any time or Wi-Fi only. To keep Android up to date, search for Software Update in the Settings menu (its location can vary depending on the phone) and make sure automatic downloads are switched on.
Be Careful If Downloading Apps from Outside of Google’s Store
Google does its best to make sure the apps on the Google Play store are free from malware, but it can’t protect you from apps on third-party app stores or web sites. Now, in some cases, third-party app stores will be totally legit—take Amazon’s app store, for example. In other cases, though, you might be dealing with an app store that’s a lot sketchier than Amazon’s. Even worse, you might encounter a website that tries to install an app on your phone without your permission.
Luckily, Android has a setting that blocks any and all apps that aren’t from the official Google Play app store. Tap Settings > Security, then toggle off the Unknown sources setting. You can always turn the Unknown sources setting back on to install an app from, say, the Amazon app store, but remember to turn the setting off again once you’re done.
Take Advantage of Smart Lock
Smart Lock is possibly one of the most useful yet underutilized Android features. It offers a number of ways to keep a device unlocked, or automatically unlock it without having to use a fingerprint/PIN/pattern. How to access it varies depending on your Android version, but in the latest OS version Nougat, it’s under Lock Screen and Security > Secure Lock Settings.
There are five unlocks method on offer of which we’d recommend you to skip Trusted Voice and Trusted Face, these three are relatively proven to make your life easier, while still having your phone secured most of the time.
When you’re out and about, it’s helpful for your handset to stay unlocked while it’s on your person. This means when you pull the device out of your pocket/bag, or even if you’re carrying it around in your hand, it will be instantly accessible. The system uses the phone’s accelerometer, so it’s not available on every Android device. Once a handset detects it has been set down, it will lock.
Assuming you live/work with people you trust, or alone, then you might want to consider Smart Lock’s Trusted Places feature. As the name suggests, it allows owners to designate locations where a handset will remain unlocked while it’s in the relatively close vicinity. It works best with a Wi-Fi connection, and Google recommends that high-accuracy or battery-saving location mode is turned on. Trusted Places works on estimates, meaning a device could remain unlocked within a radius of up to 80 meters from a set position.
Similar to Trusted Places, this keeps your Android device unlocked whenever it is near a chosen device. It’s most useful when pairing a handset with Bluetooth watches, Fitness trackers, and car infotainment systems. I use it so my car’s ready to play Spotify from my phone as soon as I climb in. Always make sure you’re using a trusted Bluetooth device, though your phone will notify you if it can’t determine that you’re using a secure connection.
Manage App Permissions
Android may be a tad annoying about asking for your default app the first time you open a new type of file and app permissions the first time a certain app wants access to something stored in your phone, but once you’re set up, it’s a blessing when you think about the privacy implications.
For example, Instagram will ask access to the camera, Whatsapp will want to see your contacts, or Waze will ask for location services, however for other less essential functions, you get control about what you want permission to. For example, with very few exceptions I never allow games to access my contacts or other personal information.
Also, you may have missed that the Play Store gives extra information about app permissions, which may come handy before you even install a certain app.
Other Ways to Protect
Enabling two-factor authentication and leveraging Google Authenticator is always a good idea for important accounts. Not connecting to unknown Wi-Fi networks is to say the least a good practice. And lastly, though we’re not big fans of antivirus suites on phones, but you should know there are plenty of paid-for and free options from big industry names like Norton, Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and Avast, along with some excellent lesser-known products such as AVL, Sophos.