Android is the undisputed market leader among smartphones. While you can debate if Apple is better than Samsung, Google has established enviable dominance in the smartphone industry with its Android finding widespread acceptance around the world and by dozens of mobile phone manufacturers. Windows has a fraction of the entire market share. Being the most dominant and omnipresent operating system for mobiles, you would expect Android to be the most secured. It indeed is if you factor in the vulnerabilities of the competing systems. If you are wondering whether or not iOS is safer, remember how its various versions have been repeatedly cracked and hacked. Android is indeed safer than iOS but it is not perfect. It is not even near perfect. This is why you see Google rolling out so many updates, almost throughout the year.
Android undergoes gradual evolution over time and this is only natural to make space for new developments. However, one of the primary reasons why Android constantly has a new version available is to include the new security patches that are continuously developed and rolled out. It is impossible to have a perfect system when you do not really know what kinds of security threats you would have to face in six months time. It is impossible to tell if a new kind of threat will emerge overnight. The only way to counter and keep countering security threats is to improve the safeguards all the time. Hence, you need to make changes to the existing system and roll out more advanced ones for optimum security.
There is a lot that Google must do and it does. There is a lot that manufacturers of smartphones running on Android should do but not everyone does their best. There are a few steps you must take as a consumer or user of Android phones. Here are a few simple but effective Android tips to keep your phone safe.
- Do not buy a smartphone that runs on an older version of Android. This does not mean you cannot buy a used Android phone or that you should pay more for the absolutely latest version. This means that you must ensure the phone you buy has the latest security updates. It is not necessary for an Android phone to run the latest version to be able to download all the security patches. Older versions of Android are also eligible for the security patches. The security patches should not be equated with some fancier features of a latest Android. The security patches are like fixes for bugs or safeguards against newly discovered and identified threats. Google is not discontinuing support for older Androids. There are people using three or four generations older Androids today. All such phones qualify for security patches. If that is assured, then you can be somewhat certain that your phone is secured.
- Even if you choose a relatively new smartphone or one that has the latest version, you should not go for a manufacturer or brand that does not have a history of releasing security patches in a timely manner. You should know that all manufacturers do not have the same modus operandi. You must be aware how some companies are more steadfast and roll out new versions of Android before others. This is also true in case of security patches. Some companies have an expedited process. For instance, Google is the first one that launches security patches for all its Android phones. This is easier as they own and make the Pixels and Nexuses. The other manufacturers too should follow suit since the security patches are available for their phones as well. It is not as if Google has only rolled out the patches for their own models and not for those made by Samsung, LG, Sony, HTC or Motorola. If you want to know which brands are more responsive with the availability of security patches as and when released by Google, then the fastest are LG, Motorola and HTC, then comes Sony, followed by Xiaomi and OnePlus. Samsung is a distant seventh.
- You should always keep your phone locked. This is perhaps the most obvious thing you can do to secure your phone. Yet, many people do not protect their phone in an optimum manner. You should not only lock the home screen but also the various apps and other important settings. You should make sure the time for your phone to be locked is short enough for no one to make good use of it to change the settings or to steal some valuable data. Changing the settings should also be made complicated. Many people simply use a lock for the screen or phone but do not really secure the settings and other sections of the phone. If someone can easily get access to the settings and disable passwords or the likes then the lock on your screen would turn out to be futile. Do not use simple patterns or generic pins to lock your phone. Use a complicated pattern, you can use your fingerprint or you must have a complex pin so people cannot figure it out easily.
- You should consider using the two factor authentication of Google. Since Android is powered by Google and the whole account basically serves as the foundation, you should secure this profile and there is a reliable two step verification process for the same. Setting up the two step verification is quite simple. You can do this on your phone. Go to the account settings of your Google profile, look for the option in the menu that says 2-step verification and then follow the instructions. You will need a phone number so you can sync the message or you can respond by voice. Most people find text to be a more convenient option. You can also use Google Prompt if you want.
- Never download any app from anywhere unless you are absolutely sure of the source. It is quite possible that an app is made available on a website and it is yet to be listed on Google Play Store. It is best to avoid such downloads. You must always prioritize apps available on Play Store. This does not mean all apps listed on the marketplace are absolutely safe to be downloaded. However, it is likely that the apps on Play Store are safer for your phone and your personal information. Google goes to great lengths to ensure the safety and security of the apps they make available at the store. Google obviously has a better security infrastructure than what you can put up on your own. Do not trust your gut or just go by what someone else has said to you. Stay within Play Store while exploring and downloading apps. There are some apps that try to install themselves. You must not allow this. You should also turn on Google Play Protect. This will always scan the Android phone for any malware that may be in a program you are trying to install. Go to Settings, then Security and there you would find Play Protect. You can also go for Full Scanning. It is better to enable Scan Device for Security Threats.
- Always use available device encryption for optimum security. Many state of the art apps ensure complete end to end encryption. Some apps do not and hence you should protect your own data, on your phone and when you share the same with other users. You will find the option to Encrypt Device in Settings, under the Security section. An encrypted device cannot be accessed by rookies. Even experts cannot access encrypted devices unless they can break through the encryption, which is a long and arduous battle. Remember how federal agencies were unable to break through encrypted phones a few years back and were asking for the manufacturers to cooperate. Remember the case wherein BlackBerry was requested to share their modus operandi pertaining to encryption used in their messenger. That is how painstaking you make your phone for those who wish to access your data when you encrypt the device.
- Always try to use virtual private networks if you are accessing a public network. There are many places where you would like to be hooked to available Wi-Fi, whether you are at a cafe or a public place. As long as you are using a mobile virtual private network, you are safer. Public wireless internet networks are the most vulnerable. Plenty of people accessing the same network and sharing data, which may or may not be encrypted depending on the security assured by that system in place, would make someone or the other vulnerable if there is anyone with the right skills to break into the communication. While breaking into data transmission is harder than breaking into a relatively unsecured system, it is not impossible and since people are sharing the same network in such an instance, the job of hackers becomes simpler and surer. There are many mobile virtual private networks available today. Choose one that you find reliable and affordable. A free virtual private network for mobile is as good as not using one at all.
- You should consider a password management tool. Plenty of people use the same password for all their accounts or various access points. This makes their lives simpler. Many people use different passwords but they write them down somewhere for easy reference. It is near impractical to remember ten different complicated passwords, unless you are choosing different combinations of four numbers or letters. Eight to ten digit long combinations of letters, numbers and alphanumeric characters or special symbols would always be daunting to remember. There are useful password management solutions available these days. You can enjoy impeccable security while being assured of fascinating convenience.
- You should consider using an antivirus solution. Android is proactive with its protection against viruses. It is also effective at protecting your device from malware, spyware and adware in most cases. However, just as an additional layer of protection, you should have some antivirus solution. This could be free but you can only expect effective protection when you pay for the license. There are many types of antivirus software available these days and some are specifically meant for Android phones. Go for those that assure security against malware and spyware. Some software would come with additional features such as phone tracker, special locks or antitheft measures.
- Always disconnect from networks and turn off every feature that you are not using at the moment. Do not keep your Wi-Fi turned on or Bluetooth and other wireless connectivity for that matter. Disconnect from networks. Keep the saved passwords if you want but turn the feature off. The same approach should be taken when it comes to applications that you no longer need or do not use any more. Simply uninstall all such apps. It is pointless to keep apps on your device when they take up space, use power and block resources as well as pose a security threat. Do not let apps have access to your contacts, messages, location, gallery and other features when you would not be using them anymore. Some apps make such accesses or permissions imperative for you to use all their features and hence you may not have a choice but you do have one when they are not in use anymore. Denying permissions may not be possible for every app so just uninstall them.
These ten Android tips are sufficient to secure your phone. There isn’t much else you can do. Just be timely responsive with the security patches. If you are aware of a new patch being made available by Google or Android and the manufacturer of your phone is delaying its release for the model you own, call them up and register a complaint. Compel them to release all latest updates that are available for free. You rightfully deserve such updates and the company is not doing you any favor.