Minor and Major Smartphone Security Concerns
For many, a smartphone is a precious object. You care for it, protect it, worry when you don’t know where it is, and perhaps spend a small fortune on cases and screen protectors. Having it near you is essential, and can lead to a compulsive habit of checking it every 15 minutes. For me, having a house full of kids who like to “prank” one another can lead to a few device altering tricks from time to time. In one case, a background was changed from a fancy car to a picture of Justin Bieber. In yet another practical joke, someone’s ringtone was made to sound like a screaming goat. The dogs really liked that one.
Having learned the hard way, devices in our household are now well protected by a variety of security enhancements. As a matter of fact, some form of protection should be enabled on everyone’s phone, regardless of the levels of pranking you may need to prevent. If you were to lose your smart device, how much sensitive information is on there? Could the information be used to access a bank account, steal an identity or perhaps contains pictures you wouldn’t necessarily want shared? If you use the phone for business, is there sensitive customer information that should be protected? With a few simple changes, you can enable features that will protect this information from being viewed by the wrong people.
Smartphone Security Features
Pin Protect – protecting your phone with a pin number is a simple way to keep unauthorized users out. When you enable PIN protection, typically you select a timeout period. This allows the phone to automatically lock after the selected timeout has been reached. A 4 digit pin has 10,000 possible combinations. A 5 digit pin has 100,000, offering greater protection. Unlocking the phone is pretty quick too, making it less inconvenient than you might think.
Fingerprint scanning – a lot of phones, including the iPhone 5s and Samsung Galaxy S5, include a fingerprint scanner. This allows you to unlock the phone using just a swipe or press of the finger. The enrollment process varies, but typically asks you to verify your prints several times during setup. With some devices, you can enroll more than one person, which is handy when using shared devices. The finger print scanning works well in most instances – but occasionally does glitch. Fortunately, the PIN protection feature can unlock the phone as a backup. There is also some question about how secure the fingerprint scanning really is. Having seen a few different (and somewhat complex) methods for “hacking” the reader by faking someone’s fingerprints – I’m convinced it’s secure enough for the average person.
Encryption – this high security feature “scrambles” the information on your device so that it cannot be looked at without entering your PIN. If your device was lost or stolen, a thief might be able to attach it to a computer and look at the contents. By encrypting it, you prevent any access unless you enter the PIN. For the average person, it may be more protection than is really necessary. But for high security users, or for compliance with HIPAA or other regulatory requirements, it may be necessary in order to stay compliant. Apple devices enable encryption by default when you enable PIN or password protection. On Android devices, enabling encryption on the phone will require you to enter your PIN when the phone is turned on. Also, the encryption process is permanent – the only way to decrypt the phone is to wipe it to factory defaults and reload all your apps.
Phone locater services – I recently purchased a new Motorola Droid Turbo smartphone. While familiarizing myself with it, I stumbled upon a complimentary service for locating the phone using GPS. You can view its location on a map, make it ring, and even wipe it of all personal data. I signed up for the service, created my account with Motorola and checked out the features. The very next day, I arrived home and reached into my pocket. No phone. I checked my laptop bag, my car, even had someone else call me so I might hear it ring. No dice. As my frustration level peaked, I recalled the locater service I had tried out. Logging in, I clicked “Locate my Device”. After a few moments, a message pops up stating the device had been reached, and displayed a map – of my yard. I stepped outside and saw my red phone on top of a snowbank. I was very happy to retrieve it safely, and for the technology that enabled it. Most phones today have this feature available, either natively or with the addition of an app. I highly recommend enabling it and keeping the login information in a safe place.
Not All Security Features Are Created Equal
There are some other smartphone security features that rank among the “better than nothing” category. Face unlock, where you hold the phone to your face and it uses the camera to recognize you, can be hacked using a photo rather easily (although more trouble than it’s usually worth for a thief who just wants to sell the phone). Pattern lock, where you draw a pattern on the lock screen to unlock the device, can leave impressions or scratches on a screen protector. Another person could see these impressions and guess the pattern to unlock your phone.
Having some smartphone security feature enabled on your smart device is good common sense. As we’ve come to rely on devices for finance, social and business interactions, information contained there needs to be protected. Enabling basic security is simple, quick, and will give you peace of mind.