If you own a smartphone, there’s a very good chance it uses the Android OS. In fact, around 85% of all phones use Android these days, but how many users have made their Android phones as secure as possible?
Android phones are vulnerable to a variety of threats, from man-in-the-middle hacking and identity theft to surveillance via unsecured wi-fi, malware from rogue apps, and simple physical theft. So how can you keep your phone secure and neutralize these hazards?
Here are 7 tips that work for us, and should help you use your smartphone more safely than ever.
1. Ensure that your Android OS and apps are completely up to date
Out of date software is a major vulnerability of Android phones. When OS builds are launched, they inevitably attract the attention of hackers, who seek ways to penetrate their security features. And because of the complexity of the Android platform, they tend to succeed.
That’s why new OS patches appear at regular intervals, and one of the reasons why Android is constantly seeing new updates. However, here’s the thing: updates are not made available to all phones as soon as they are released. That’s particularly the case for owners of older phones. In those cases, manufacturers often choose to abandon support for automatic updates, leaving customers all alone.
If you want to download the most recent available update, doing so is simple. Head to the Settings menu on your Android phone, choose the “About Phone” option (which might be called “About Device“). Then choose the “Software Update” option, and your phone will search for available updates.
2. Choose a phone manufacturer which provides regular security updates
Updating your OS is essential, and you should do so whenever you get the chance. But Google (the developers of Android) also release regular security updates to tighten up their software. These are theoretically available for all Android users. However, not all phone makers actually provide them.
As Computer World has reported, not all phone manufacturers provide these updates in a timely manner. Google ask phone makers to supply updates within 90 days of release, but even then many companies fail to deliver.
As a rule, stick to phones that are made by Android Enterprise Recommended suppliers. This is Google’s gold standard for applying security updates, and you might be surprised by how many popular companies don’t qualify.
3. Be very cautious about using public wi-fi networks
Even with the perfect OS and security updates, there are plenty of unsafe ways to use your Android phone, and using unsecured public wi-fi networks is at the top of the list. These networks are unencrypted and totally open to man-in-the-middle attacks. By using relatively simple tools, hackers can “sniff” Android users’ IP addresses and social media login details, and take over their sessions. After that, causing real carnage is easy.
Unfortunately, we often have very little choice about the networks we use (especially if we need a stream of barista-made flat whites while we work.) But there are some ways to optimize our security when using public networks.
For starters, don’t make payments via unsecured public networks. As a rule, remember that any data you send is vulnerable to outsiders, and no credit card details are safe. If the network is suspiciously slow, that’s a red flag as well. Lag could be caused by a “fake” wi-fi hotspot, which even the coffee shop owners may know nothing about.
4. Add two factor authentication for sensitive services
If you can’t avoid using public wi-fi or you just want to add another layer to your general Android security, enabling two factor authentication (2FA) is a good idea.
2FA involves adding an extra barrier to accessing websites like Facebook or payment portals. It’s commonly used by credit card processors and businesses who want to secure remote workers as they roam around town during their daily schedule.
When you apply 2FA, websites will ask for an extra piece of information that only you know. They may send an identification key to another device (such as a laptop or specialist authentication fob), or they may employ more advanced voice or retinal recognition systems.
5. Encrypt your Android phone securely
If you want to turn your smartphone into a fortress, encryption is the way to go. It’s possible to encrypt all of the data on any Android phone, rendering it almost immune to unlocking should it fall into the wrong hands. So if you use your phone for work and are worried about theft, it’s a no-brainer.
Encryption is a standard feature on more recent Android builds, but relatively few users actually employ it. To engage encryption, all you usually have to do is navigate to the Settings menu, then “Personal” and “Security“, where you’ll find the encryption settings.
By choosing “Encrypt all data on phone“, you’ll start the process. However, there are some things to note here. Encryption is irreversible (in most cases), and can slow performance. So it’s not for everyone.
6. Only use reputable app stores
Apps are a major Achilles Heel for Android users. While the OS itself is very resistant to malware and other viruses, apps can be vectors for all sorts of unpleasant digital dangers. They can infest your phone with adware, slow it down with bloatware, and implant tools to steal your data. So it’s important to know how to download apps safely.
By and large, the best place to download apps is the Google Play Store. Anything uploaded to Google Play is checked for viruses and comes with the Google sea of approval. It’s very rare to encounter security issue when using apps from the store, but that’s not the case with third party repositories.
7. Install an Android VPN
Virtual Private Networks provide an extra security dimension for Android users while they surf the web, stream video, or use social media. If you habitually use public wi-fi or transmit sensitive payment information, installing a VPN is another essential security measure.
The great thing about VPNs is that they don’t just encrypt your data against cyberattackers. They also provide privacy and anonymity, so you can feel secure against government surveillance as well as criminal activity.
Stay safe when using your phone
By applying these 7 tips, you should be able to secure your Android device while you use it in public. VPNs, encryption, 2FA, combined with common sense when using app stores and public wi-fi equals a pretty solid security setup. Nothing’s perfect, of course. But if you follow these guidelines, you’ll be safer than ever.