Easy ways to protect your Android phone

You're carrying your entire life in your pocket. Lock it down!

Your Android phone not only enables you to do nearly everything online, but also allows you to carry your life in your pocket. Although having all that information in a single location and always on hand may be especially convenient, it makes for an appealing target to thieves and hackers. But you're not defenseless: You can take a number of steps and precautions to ensure that your stuff stays safe.

Pay attention to app permissions

App permissions are your first line of defense against malicious software. Every time you install an app, you see a pop-up that lists all of the aspects of your phone that the app is designed to access. While most people mindlessly dismiss the pop-up and continue the installation, it sometimes pays off to discover whether the flashlight app you downloaded uses services that could cost you money, for example, or to learn that Facebook's app essentially asks to use your entire phone.

App permissions are archaic and difficult to read, but newer versions of Android make understanding them a little easier. You can tap each individual permission to learn more about it and make better decisions as to which apps you download. Unfortunately, you can't pick and choose which permissions to accept, so if an app wants access to something, you must either accept all its demands or find a different app.

Download only from the Play Store

Android evangelists often talk about the benefits of sideloading software onto your smartphone. On paper, it makes sense: We should be able to install and run whatever we like on our devices. The harsh reality is that downloading and installing random apps you find on the Internet can lead to trouble--even if you're being vigilant.

Although the Google Play Store has housed malicious apps in the past, Google has done its part to clean out most of the riffraff. The store isn't as reliable as the Apple App Store, but you won't feel like you're playing Russian roulette every time you download a game or Twitter client. Downloading an app from a random website on the Internet, in contrast, opens your data--and sometimes even your wallet--to all sorts of malware. Android apps are notoriously easy to take apart, and attackers can repurpose even popular apps such as Snapchat or Tinder to distribute mobile malware without your knowledge.

You can find a handful of reputable third-party app stores, such as the Amazon App Store or F-Droid, but sticking to the Play Store greatly reduces your chances of coming across unsavory software.

Install a security suite

If you're really worried about malware, you should look into getting a security suite for your phone. A search for "security" on the Google Play Store produces a couple thousand results, some of which come from desktop-security software companies such as McAfee and Norton. I recommend downloading either Lookout Mobile Security or TrustGo Mobile Security, as AV-Test (an independent antivirus testing center) ranked those apps highly on features and on their ability to catch malware.

A security app often gives you functions beyond alerts that flag infections from malicious apps. Most mobile security suites offer ways to back up your phone--a feature sorely missing from Android--and some security tools can help you locate, lock, and wipe your device remotely should it be pilfered from your pocket. Installing a security suite on your phone may not sound like a glamorous task, but once you have set it up, you can rest easy knowing that you have a system in place in case anything goes wrong.

Lock your phone

This might seem obvious, but putting a PIN or pattern lock on your phone is one of the easiest ways to secure your device. Doing so keeps nosy friends out of your text messages and makes it harder for thieves to wipe and resell your phone. You can set a lock screen on your phone by going into Settings and making your way to the Security & Screen Lock option. Note that attackers and snoops can crack pattern locks by examining the streaks that you leave on the screen by entering your pattern over and over again, so a PIN is the way to go if you're worried about someone using your oily skin against you.

You lose the convenience of just being able to turn on your phone and get right into using it, but the increased protection is worth the extra hassle.

Look past the FUD

The most important thing to remember about Android security is that you shouldn't buy into all the scaremongering that media outlets report on an almost daily basis. Android's open nature makes it less secure than iOS or Windows Phone, but you can avoid most of the threats to your phone if you take even just one of the precautions described above. So while a plague of phone-bricking Trojan horses might be spreading via a shady app store in Ukraine, you and your freshly secured phone have nothing to worry about.

Tags smartphonesmobile securityFacebookAndroidPhonesconsumer electronics

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