5 Steps to Better Android Security

Android has always included lots of security and privacy settings and tools, from screen locks to SIM card encryption. Every update has further enhanced Android security by introducing Smart Lock, Trusted Agents and Screen Pinning, as well as Guest Accounts, and more. This guide will help you learn how to make your Android smartphone or tablet more secure using the features built in to the operating system.

Start Using Smart Lock

Smart Lock is a relatively new addition to the Android security features which allows the use of several further locking and security options. You will need to enable Smart Lock before you can use most of the security features mentioned here.

All of the system security settings are accessed in settings > security. Scroll to the bottom of the security settings and you will see “Trust Agents” under the advanced heading. This is where you enable Smart Lock. Before you can use Smart Lock, you will need to set up a screen lock on your device. Your choice of screen lock must be Pattern, PIN or Password to use Smart Lock.

You need to enter your screen lock code when you want to change your Smart Lock settings. If you’ve turned off Smart Lock in the past, turn on now. In the security menu under “Advanced”, tap Trust agents and make sure that “Smart Lock” is set to On.

Enable Trusted Devices and Places

To set up a trusted device or trusted place so that your device will automatically unlock, open your device’s Settings menu > Personal > Security and tap Smart Lock. Enter your pattern, PIN or password on the next screen.

You can choose a trusted device, such as a Bluetooth watch, fitness tracker, or Bluetooth headset, to keep your phone unlocked whenever that device is connected. You have to pair your Bluetooth device before you can make it a trusted device.

On your phone or tablet, make sure that Bluetooth is turned on. In the Smart Lock menu, tap “Trusted devices”. Tap the add icon, and then choose Bluetooth. Touch a device to select it from the list of connected devices. Only paired devices will show in this list. When your device is connected to the Bluetooth device, your device will automatically unlock. To remove a trusted Bluetooth device, select the device from the list of trusted Smart Lock options in the “Trusted devices” menu.

To add your home or workplace as a trusted location, in the Smart Lock menu, touch Trusted places. Move the switch next to “Home” or “Work” to the on position. You need to have an Internet connection and allow your phone to use your location for your trusted places to work.

To edit your home or workplace, open the Google Maps app on your device and sign in. Tap the menu button, tap Settings > Edit home or work. Update the information and tap the tick mark. To remove or edit a customised place, move the switch to the off position.

Set Up Trusted Faces

Although contained in the same menu, Trusted Faces works differently to Trusted Places or Devices. You can have your device unlock when it recognizes your face. After setting a trusted face, every time you turn on your device, it will search for your face and unlock if it recognizes you. Data used to recognize your face is only stored on your device.

To set a trusted face, open your device’s Settings menu. Open the security menu and, under “Screen security,” tap Smart Lock. Enter your pattern, PIN, or password. Tap Trusted face, read the disclaimer message and then tap “Set it up”. Face unlock captures an image of your face during setup, which is then used as a template to match to when trying to unlock using trusted face. With this in mind, it is best to set this feature up whilst indoors, in a well lit room. Follow the instructions to complete setup.

Try Screen Pinning

Although part of the Android operating system since version 5.0, Screen Pinning might not be available on all devices running the OS. Screen Pinning enables you to lock your device on a specific app or screen. This makes it useful when allowing someone to watch a movie, for example, without allowing them access to anything else on the device. Perfect for sharing your device with children.

To enable Screen Pinning, open settings > security, and look in the advanced section. Tap “Screen Pinning” and use the slider to turn the feature on. If you can’t find the screen pinning option in the security menu, check whether the feature is available with your device.

Now open an app and go to the screen you want to pin. Tap the Overview button (you might know it as the Recent Apps button) on your device. Swipe up to reveal the pin icon on the bottom right corner of your selected screen. Tap the pin icon.

If you want the lock screen to appear after an app is unpinned, check the box next to “Ask for unlock pattern before unpinning.” Finally, tap “Start” to pin the screen. You can now hand the device over to someone else, knowing that they can’t snoop around.

To unpin the screen, tap and hold Overview and Back at the same time. Release both buttons and the screen will be unpinned. If you required that the lock screen show after an app is unpinned, you will need to enter your pattern, PIN, or password to finish.

Verifying your App Downloads

If you choose to allow the installation of apps from unknown sources and install apps from sources other than Google Play, it’s more likely that apps will be installed that could harm you or your device. In general, it isn’t a good idea for Android security.

If you allow the installation of apps from unknown sources, the Verify Apps feature protects you when installing apps outside of Google Play by continually checking your device to make sure that all apps installed are behaving in a safe manner, even after the initial installation.

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Russ Ware

Russ has been testing, reviewing and writing guides for tech since the heady days of Windows 95 and the Sega Saturn. Working for international publications in both print and online, if it has LED's, a screen, beeps or has source code, Russ will want to master it (and very likely take it apart to see how it works...)

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