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Monday, January 10, 2011

How To Completely Secure Your Data on Android Phones

Your phone travels around with you all day, giving you ample opportunity to lose it, or simply let it out of your sight for a time. It is increasingly common that people carry personal, and sometimes sensitive data on their mobile phones. There are a few simple tricks you can use with Android to make sure no prying eyes can access your data.

Read on to see what you can do to keep that data private.

Locking the phone

This is the simplest thing you can do to keep unauthorized parties from rummaging around in your phone. All Android phones include the ability to set a pattern lock to access the device. We've always felt this is a really great idea, because it is extremely fast to perform the required gesture, and still fairly secure. Android 2.2 added the ability to create a PIN or password lock as well.

To activate this layer of security, go to your main system settings, and select Location and Security. Then pick Set Up Screen Lock from this menu. Choose the type of lock you want to use, and input your code or pattern when asked. Now any curious (of nefarious) individuals will be less likely to access your data. If your phone is attached to an Exchange server, a PIN is often required, so you may have no choice but to go this route.

Locking specific apps
Android's multitasking capabilities also allow you to use third-party solutions to lock down specific apps. Maybe you often let friends use your phone, but would rather they not go poking around in your Facebook app. Or maybe you don't want to set up a lock screen, but would still like some apps protected. Either way, you have two excellent options for doing this.

If you are the tinkering type, Tasker can set a PIN for any app you like. This will pull up a text entry field and keypad whenever the chosen app is launched. If the correct code is not entered, the app cannot be used. To add this profile to Tasker tap the New button in the app. Select Application from the list that is brought up. Now pick the app you want to lock. Now, tap the '+' in the lower left corner to associate an action with that app. Pick Display from this list, then select Lock. You will be asked to enter a passcode. Then press the Done button, and hit save to confirm the profile. You will have to do this for each app you want to lock. Tasker is $6.30 in the Market, but it can do a lot more than this.

Another way to keep your apps safe and secure is to use Seal. This app lets you create either a PIN, or pattern lock for as many apps as you want. We really like that the Android pattern lock system is available here. It's much faster than pressing buttons on the keyboard. Seal allows you to group apps into situations, so you can toggle protection for multiple apps on or off quickly. If you have either Locale or Tasker, you can use the Seal automation plug-in to control where apps are protected. You could turn the lock off for all apps at home, and enable security on your sensitive apps when you leave. Seal runs $2.73 in the Market.

There are other apps available to protect your data, but we've found Seal and Tasker to be the best bang for the buck. Some Android users swear by App Protector, and others prefer to simply use a security app like Lookout or WaveSecure to nuke a lost phone.

Hiding apps with root
Rooted Android users have one more option for keeping data out of reach. This is not an overt locking down of the phone or apps. Rather, you simply obscure apps you don't want people messing with. Using Titanium Backup, you can "freeze" apps. This removes the app from the phone's UI, but does not uninstall it, or remove data. At any time you can go back in and un-freeze the app. Users of some phones use this to hide the bloatware, but you can use it to hide your data.

Since frozen apps are completely inactive, they cannot use background data. Also, it is a pain to go back into Titanium Backup to restore them. But if you only rarely use an app, and don't want anyone else to use it, this how you remove the temptation. It is a bit of the old security through obscurity, but in this case, it is very obscure. It's unlikely any nosy individual knows what Titanium Backup is, or that it can freeze apps.

If you want to give this a shot, make sure you're rooted, and that you have the full version of Titanium. Go to the Backup/Restore tab, and find the app you want to freeze. This can even be an included app. Tap on it, and one of the options should be Freeze. Freezing the app will take just a moment. Now for all intents and purposes, the app is gone. Go back into Titanium Backup and unfreeze it by the same method when you want to use it. Some phones may force you to reboot for changes to take effect, though.

It's not paranoia to want to keep your data secure. Your mobile phone is a tool, and you should be able to make the best use possible of it. Sometimes that means you have sensitive data on it that you'd rather not let everyone see. Using one or more of these methods can give you some piece of mind. If you've ever taken steps to increase your Android security, let us know what you did.

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