Its open-source operating system and budget-friendly models are the main reasons Android accounts for over a billion smartphones worldwide. However, these very same traits also make it a prime target for hackers and other criminals. In order to keep your information safe, it’s important to understand the vulnerabilities so you can better combat them. Luckily, Google already offers some fairly advanced methods of protection so you can easily protect your information with only a few apps.
Remotely Track and Wipe Your Phone
As diligent as you might be about your phone, there’s still the possibility you could lose it or it gets stolen. When this happens, the biggest concern is your personal information. Not only do the criminals have access to your contacts, they could potentially log in to your bank account, email and more. Plus, there’s the hassle of buying a new phone. Luckily, now you can track and even wipe your smartphone remotely.
If you’re thinking of downloading a security app for its tracking and remote wiping ability, you might not need to. Android can do all of this through the device manager. All you need to do is enroll your devices then navigate to security settings. From there you simply check off the option to locate and lock and erase your device remotely. In order for this to work properly, you also need to enable location access. Better yet, this works on devices that run Android 2.2 or above, which means almost all devices should have access to this feature.
With that said, if you don’t have access to it for some reason or you want an app that offers more features than tracking and wiping your phone, you can look into security apps such as Avast. Not only is Avast free, it also offers a virus scanner, SMS and call filter and even a firewall that can control network traffic for both rooted and unrooted devices.
Use Virtual Private Networks
You likely have connected to unsecure networks with your smartphone without a second thought. Regardless of whether you connect via public WiFi or LTE, there’s always a possibility that cyber criminals can hack into your network. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) can provide an additional layer of security when browsing the web. This is especially important when handling sensitive data such as your credit card information or passwords over a wireless link.
So how does it keep you safe? A VPN connects two computers securely. It keeps your data safe as it uses encryption and other security measures so no one can see any information you exchange. Besides security, a VPN also allows you to get around geo-restrictions.
Android’s open-source nature allows people to download apps from everywhere even if it’s not on the Google Play store. While this sounds convenient, it can also lead to security risks. Apps downloaded outside of the Play store have a greater possibility of being infected with a virus or malware. The easiest way to avoid exposing your device to this is to download apps only from trusted sources like Google Play. In general, Google will check to ensure apps do not have any malicious software attached to it. With that said, some malware has slipped through the cracks.
That’s what makes the Verify Apps feature even better. This gives you the ability to monitor your device for harmful code or suspicious activity. All you need to do is navigate to the security section and check the “Scan device for security threats.” This will allow Verify Apps to oversee all your apps even after they’re installed. Since it runs in the background, once you check the box, you never have to worry about it again—at least until a notification box pops up reporting suspicious activity.
Although this can block a majority of malware, it’s still up to you to remain vigilant when downloading apps, even off the Play store. Always check to make sure what kind of permissions the app wants. If a simple app like a calculator is asking for access to your contacts or camera, it might be malware.
Secure Your Device
It might seem like common sense, but the best way to protect the information on your phone is to enable basics of security such as using a PIN or password to unlock your screen. Something as simple as this can keep criminals from accessing personal data such as your email, documents, social media accounts and more. There’s no excuse not to enable this feature as Android makes it incredibly easy to secure your device. The Smart Lock function even allows you to keep your phone unlocked in a pre-approved safe conditions such as when you’re at home, connected to a trusted Bluetooth device or when it is in your pocket.
For even greater security, enable two-factor authentication. While it might mean it takes you a couple seconds longer to unlock your phone, it also makes it harder for people to try to hack into your device. Two-factor authentication makes it so you have to put in a code in addition to your password. That means even if someone manages to guess your password, he would still have to contend with the special code.
Encrypt Your Phone
Take your security one step further and consider encrypting your phone. For the latest Nexus phones, encryption is on by default. However, you can enable this option on phones using Android 4.1 or above. When locked, encryptions stores your phone’s data in an unreadable, scrambled form. Once you enter the encryption code, your phone then decrypts it, so make sure you secure your device.
There are, unfortunately, some drawbacks to encryption, such as:
- Slower performance. Once you encrypt a device, the data has to be decrypted every time you access it. This may lead to a drop in performance, especially on budget phones.
- Irreversible encryption. Once you encrypt your data, you cannot reverse it. If you want to get rid of the feature, you have to reset your factory settings, which will delete all of the personalization and apps from your phone.
- If you have a rooted device, you will need to unroot it. Luckily, once you enable it, you can root your device again.
The best way to protect your phone and information, however, is to stay alert. Make sure you don’t navigate to suspicious sites or download third-party apps from stores or sites you are not familiar with. More importantly, make sure to update your phone whenever a security patch hits to ensure you have the latest protection on your phone.
How do you keep your smartphone secure? Tell us in the comments below.
About the author: Faith is a freelance technology writer with a focus on security. She believes everyone should take the proper steps to protect his or her personal information on desktops and smartphones.