As of 2022, there are an estimated 3.5 billion smartphone users in the world. Smartphones allow a vast array of communications and access to information. As such, making sure that your devices are secure is a top priority.
Using a secure passcode and biometrics to unlock your phone with each use allows you easy access to your device while preventing others from using your phone without permission. Below we’ll go over various security items with smartphones and mobile devices and how to implement them.
All smartphones provide a passcode method to log in. These can be PIN numbers (ranging from 4 to 6 digits typically) or pattern unlocks (swiping a chosen pattern on a 3×3 grid on Android devices). When using a method like this, it is advised to use a longer passcode. When you use a 4-digit numerical PIN, there are 10,000 possible combinations, whereas using a 6-digit numerical PIN has 1,000,000 possible combinations.
The length of a passcode is important, but even more important is the passcode used. Using a passcode with repeat numbers (eg. 111111) or sequential numbers (eg. 123456) is considered insecure. Starting with a 1 or 0 is also very common and advised against. Furthermore, if you use a code such as a significant date (birthday, anniversary, etc.), people who know you or can see that information online will be more likely to unlock your phone successfully.
While still a method of locking a phone, pattern unlocks are considered the least secure by security experts. It is estimated that if someone watches an individual enter a pattern to unlock their phone once, they can replicate it 64% of the time, and given the opportunity to see a pattern entered multiple times, the chances of memorizing and replicating rise to 80%. There are also predictable patterns that people tend to use, typically starting in the top left corner, which makes it easier for someone to guess the correct pattern.
In addition to a PIN number or pattern unlock, most modern smartphones have a biometric authentication method built in. These include fingerprint scanners, face recognition, and voice recognition. The data for these authentication methods is stored in an encrypted manner which prevents it from just being accessed and replicated.
Most phones will walk you through setting up a biometric security method when you first activate and log into the device. Should you want to set yours up later, or if you want to update your biometrics, these settings are easy to find. On an iPhone or iPad, you can go to “Settings” and select “Touch ID & Passcode” or “Face ID & Passcode.” Once you enter your device PIN, you will be able to create a fingerprint or face recognition or update your existing settings. More information on this can be found at Apple’s official support page for Touch ID Setup and Face ID Setup.
On an Android device, the steps may vary based on the model of phone you have. Typically you can set up your biometrics by going to Settings, then clicking on “Lock Screen & Security”. From there select “Fingerprint” or “Trusted Face.”
With smartphones, notifications are a key function that can tell you about an application’s activity. These notifications will show up on your lock screen indicating when you have new activity in an application. Depending on your security settings, this may show a lot of information. If someone picks up your device, they can see what applications have notifications, how many they have, and the contents of the notifications. As a result, we advise locking down notification settings to ensure a passerby cannot discern the contents of a message.
On iOS, notification settings can be adjusted by the following steps. Click on the “Settings” app, and then click on “Notifications.” Under “Show Previews,” you can select “Always,” “When Unlocked” or “Never.” Choosing “Never” will ensure that even if your phone is unlocked, the contents of the notification will only show what application it is coming from. A mid-ground is to choose “When Unlocked” which will show the contents of the notification when your phone unlocks. This will show the contents of your notifications that prying eyes could see. Depending on the application, the notification may show less information.
Smartphones have the ability to be backed up, often to the cloud. This provides a layer of security and convenience, so should your phone encounter an error, you will be able to restore a recent backup to continue working from. Enabling automatic backups will help ensure you have the most current version of your data available in an emergency. These backups can be set to run when on Wi-Fi and plugged in to avoid unnecessary data and battery usage.
Quick Tips on Device Security
We know, that was a lot of info! Here is a list of quick tips to ensure your devices are secure:
- Use a secure 6-digit pin number on your phone
- Do not use repeat or sequential numbers for a PIN number
- Do not use numbers like a birthday or anniversary for a PIN number
- Do not use a pattern unlock
- Enable a Fingerprint or Face Recognition on your phone if available
- Set notifications to not show a preview while your phone is locked
- Enable automatic backups to ensure a reliable restore point for your phone