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How to Secure Data on Android Phones and Tablets

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Securing Data on Android or other devices has become a necessity given how smartphones and tablets have lately taken over a lot of the tasks we used to perform on our personal computers. No longer are phones just used for calls and texts, today they hold our personal information, our documents, our emails, connect to our social networks, have all our contacts and their personal details, our agendas, schedules, downloads, location logs, audio and video recordings and all our media.

All of this is also more important now in light of the recent controversies of data leaks, hackers gaining access to cloud accounts and governments wanting more control over encryption. If you really want your data to be secure, you need  to take proactive measures from the start.

If you some how manage to lose your device, you could potentially be giving away a lot about yourself and your contacts to a complete stranger. Today I’m going to share a few simple steps you can and should take to ensure the security of your Android device and the data on it.

Useful apps are going to be listed in the end

Always use a screen lock

You will be surprised to learn that a lot of people don’t use the most simplest and easiest method to secure their phones – the screen lock. Granted it can be a pain to continuously unlock the screen if you text frequently, the security benefits outweigh the inconvenience.

The screen lock is your first and foremost layer of protection. Go for a 3×3 pattern lock if you are concerned about convenience and set the screen to automatically look about 5 minutes after sleep (screen off). This way you can continue to text or use your phone, and it will lock automatically after being inactive for a while.

This will generally deter people from snooping around in your phone when you are not looking but remember, this is by no means a complete solution. If you lose your phone, the thief has to simply wipe and flash it to reset all locks. On the bright side, wiping the phone will also delete all your personal data, like contacts, call records, texts and accounts (Google, Facebook, Skype etc).

However, after a thief wipes your phone and powers it up, he/she will have access to the content on your internal and external memory cards – which is a problem.

Carefully Read App Permissions Before Installing

While there are several trusted developers on the Play Store, you are also going to be installing apps from new developers, especially freebies. However, the app permissions box which pops up when you try to install any app has a lot of important information. It tells you what that app can basically do on your phone, such as read your contacts, dial out, send texts, override your lockscreen and even use your camera or mic.

If you think any app’s purpose does not correspond with it’s permissions, you should not install it. If you do, you are basically just trusting a third party not to misuse or steal your data.

Move Images and Videos to Dropbox

This is a good way to protect sensitive media, such as personal and family photos, which you would not like a stranger to access. Don’t keep your media stored on your internal or external memory and simply access it from Dropbox when needed. In this case, when the thief wipes your phone to access it, your Dropbox account details will also be wiped, rendering it inaccessible.

Don’t Rely on Locking and Encryption Apps

Apps which ‘lock’ the gallery or your messages etc are not exactly reliable. Most of them work by simply changing file extensions to hide those files, which can be accessed if you connect the phone to your computer and unhide those files.

When your phone gets wiped, all settings and data is reset, which means the external app no longer protects your gallery or any other app and the data is actually sitting on your memory card, waiting to be accessed.

However, there are a few apps that use actual encryption, but risk of data loss is present with these apps. In order to be safe, you should always copy important data onto your computer as a backup before encrypting it on your Android.

Don’t use Public and Unprotected Wi-fi Networks

While it may seem like a good idea to surf on an unprotected wi-fi network, by doing so you are putting your own data and information at risk. It is technically quite possible for hackers to use exploits and retrieve sensitive information from your phone. Your online sessions, such as signing in to your Facebook account are also vulnerable on unprotected networks.

In order to protect yourself, you should use a VPN service, such as Hotspot Shield VPN, which is a free app available for Android devices.

Keep private data on Internal Memory

Remember, it is much easier to remove an external memory card than stealing a device. If your Android supports external memory, be sure not to store sensitive data or media on it. It takes about a minute to open up your device and extract the external memory card, but if your data is on the internal memory, the thief will have to actually take your device, wipe it (if you have a screen lock) and then access your data (which will be much harder if you used actual encryption, and impossible if you saved sensitive data on cloud storage).

Applications to Install

Dropbox

SSE – Universal Encryption App

Hotspot Shield VPN for Android

Featured image courtesy: cloudproviderusa.com

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