How to Secure Your Android Phone

The world is a scary place. People want your data. These are facts of life and are the same whether you’re on Android, iOS, or some other platform. Some individuals will go to massive lengths to access your bank account, but for some it’s as simple as picking up your phone while you’re ordering your morning coffee.

This week we saw Android malware DroidDream hit more than fifty apps in the Market. As phones get smarter and smarter, and gain access to more and more of our sensitive data, we must be more and more aware of security in all aspects.

There’s a variety of solutions to eliminate the risk, both built into the Android OS itself and available as apps on the Market. We’ll cover both of these types of security in today’s Android How-To.

Please note that I’ll be doing this review on a Froyo device, so devices running earlier versions of Android may not support all functions we talk about today.

Screen Locks

Screen locks are one of the most basic and primitive levels of security implemented on almost any device that can hold any information. Android will allow you to not only use the PIN code method seen on dumb and smart phones alike, but also textual passwords and even gestural patterns!

To set a screen lock head over to Settings > Security > Set up screen lock. You’ll then need to select the type of security you want. If you want to set a pin or password, the method is pretty obvious: type and save.

The pattern option is a unique option that’s really simple, and even fun, to set. Once you’ve selected Pattern, you’ll be shown a grid of 3×3 points. You then need to simply connect the dots, making sure your path hits at least four points.

Also note you can enable tactile feedback and change how fast a user is required to “unlock the phone”. I never see a reason to not have this set to “immediately”, as this makes anyone have to enter credentials before accessing any of your phone.

If you ever meet me in real life, i've got a different pattern than this!

SIM Card Locks

In addition to a phone lock, you can also protect the phone features by requiring a PIN code to use network-dependent services. If you decide to lock it in this way, you will only have the option to set a numerical/symbolic code with no text or patterns.

DON’T set a numerical key to be the same as your ATM pin number!

Credential Storage

Credential storage houses your authentication certificates for VPN or SSL — not something that should affect the majority of users. However, if you feel the need to add an additional level of security to this, setting a password is pretty much the same process as above.

You can also choose to hide visible passwords, to show nothing when typing in your sensitive data.

Third Party Protection

Securing a phone using the in-built features is only one layer and there are a multitude of apps dedicated to protecting your device. There’s also a handful of online services that will help you if your phone is lost or stolen.

AVG

AVG’s Antivirus protects your device like a desktop counterpart would. By hitting the icon in the free version I tested, AVG would proceed to scan my entire phone including apps and media. AVG will identify any indiscrepancy in your system and point out how to correct them.

For example, a scan of my system revealed a few options in my settings that could cause problems. By hitting the “Fix” button, I am then guided through how to correct them.

Pro versions are available which give you access to additional features, such as finding your phone on a map and backing it up.

Lookout

Lookout is another app which has antivirus built in; this time it’s a free app with protection as standard. However, Lookout’s strongest feature at its price point is the “Find My Phone” feature which shows your phone’s location on a Google Maps map.

The CNET 5-star rated app boasts of its excellent power consumption as it only requires the equivalent of a 33-second phone call per day. That’s definitely worth it for the added protection Lookout provides. Make sure to check out AppStorm’s review of this very app.

Norton

Symantec is mostly know for its efforts in PC security, but they do have a suite of little-known mobile security apps including this beta one. Norton Mobile Security gives you the Mobile Me-esque remote capabilities to lock, wipe and protect your phone even when you’re away from it due to loss or theft.

Norton also includes its anti-malware software — to protect you further from potential attacks that could hit you on your mobile device — and SMS/call screening.

Trend Micro

Trend Micro’s contribution to this genre of application is its Mobile Security software. Features that this app can showcase include download protection, parental controls and filtering.

Download protection stops you from downloading malicious content and apps to your phone. Meanwhile, the “Safe Surfing” feature protects your identity from potential phishing attacks.

HTCSense.com

Owners of the HTC Desire HD or the HTC Desire Z will be pleased to know there’s a free, official security service offered to them through HTCSense.com. This service from the Taiwan-based phone maker allows you to remotely back up and even wipe your supported device.

At the moment, only the HTC Desire HD and the HTC Desire Z are supported on the service, but there’s little doubt that this will be offered to users of HTC’s new S line including the Incredible S, Wildfire S, and Desire S.

App Permissions

The final thing to monitor (in order to increase security) is app permissions. Most of the time, when you install an app, you’ll be asked to allow that app to do certain things. Take care before you go ahead and hit Install by reading exactly what’s being asked. Remember you can also view these same permissions on the web-based store.

For example: a fishy-looking-but-also-fun game is asking to be able to make calls? What would they need that for? Maybe adding hundreds of dollars to your bill thanks to premium rate numbers. It’s not too unlikely!

Just take care, and use the aforementioned scanning apps to look for any problems you can find. AVG’s scan is the one I’ve had the best experience with and will identify most problems that could arise into security issues.

Share your tips for securing your Android phone in the comments below!