Android Lock Screens, Which Option Has the Best Security?

Mobile devices are real gateways into our lives. By accessing someone’s phone, you could potentially see their email, text messages, call log, what they been taking pictures of, contact list, browsing history and any notes or to-do lists they may have.

Think about that for a minute. If somebody, a complete stranger, were to access your phone, would you be comfortable with them having access to all of the information they could get from your phone?

Securing your Android phone or tablet is actually quite easy. The Android OS offers a few different options to secure it so that no one will have access to your information. I am going to briefly cover what the different Android lock screen options are and which one holds the most security.

To access the security options from the home screen, go to the “device settings–>Location and security–>Set up screen lock“.

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The part of security process you might want to give a little thought to is how long your screen is accessible before the screen locks. The times can range anywhere from immediately when the screen turns off all the way up to about 20 minutes. For someone who has a lot of text message conversations, perhaps a longer security lock timer might be in order. However, someone who has a lot of sensitive information on the phone would be better off setting the screen lock timer to engage as soon as the screen shuts off. I’ve found that setting the Android screen lock somewhere between two and five minutes works well for my uses.

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The PIN is nothing more than a 4 to 16 digit number to be entered so the screen unlocks. This is similar to your ATM PIN. Obviously, the longer the PIN is, the harder it will be for someone to guess. However, the longer it is, the more inconvenience it is to type in each time you want to see who emailed you or reply to a text message.

android-screen-lock-PIN

The password option on your Android is just like any other app (email, Facebook, etc.) you would have a password for. The password needs to be at least four characters long and contain one letter. The benefit of using a password is there are more characters available such as exclamation points, an asterisk, upper and lowercase letters and so on.

Again, you will want a unique, strong password containing several different types of characters. Typically you want it longer than four characters for strength purposes. Using a password will bring about a similar problem as PIN number. The longer and more secure the password, the more of an inconvenience it will be to type in each time.

android-screen-lock-password

A pattern lock is something the Android OS brought to the market a while back. A pattern lock is nothing more than connecting the dots on the screen to make a pattern. As simple as it sounds, unless somebody sees you unlocking your phone, there’s no real way for them to guess what your pattern is. You have the option to make the pattern as long as you can remember (until all of the 9 dots are used) and as short as connecting four dots.

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The pattern lock has a couple of additional settings to it. The first is “Use visible pattern”. This will show the pattern as you are tracing it out on the screen. Not ideal for security, because anyone looking at your screen has a good chance of picking out what your pattern is. The second option is tactile feedback. This is the vibration of your phone as you’re touching the screen.

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For maximum security, the Password option coupled with a 16 characters alphanumeric password is definitely the best. Following up is the PIN with 16 digits and the last is the Pattern Lock. What I found is that if you are consistently swiping the same pattern to unlock the phone, it tends to leave a deep smudge on your screen protector that anyone can guess your pattern easily. Also, it is easier for people to remember patterns than string of characters. Take a minute and the people beside you unlocking their phone and you will understand what I mean. Of course, for a clean phone without any smudge, the Pattern lock can be as powerful as the Password or PIN option as well.

When it comes to the ease of use, the Pattern Lock is the obvious winner, followed by the PIN and the Password.

The best option is really up to you and your individual needs with your Android. When picking a method to secure Android, there needs to be a balance of security and ease of use. If you’re somebody who sends a lot of text messages and emails, a shorter password or PIN might be easier than a longer PIN or password.

In my opinion (and that of the FBI), the pattern lock is the best option based on both ease-of-use and security. When setting up a pattern, I would recommend setting something up that is easily repeatable with one hand. This way if you need to access your phone, you have a greater chance of unlocking it single-handedly.

Overall, any type of security is better than no security at all. Depending on the type of information you store, you might want to consider stronger security over the ease-of-use. Think of how your life could be affected by someone gaining access to the personal information accessible through your phone and gauge which Android lock screen option you deem necessary.