Stay secure with your Android


Internet security is constantly in the news. Unfortunately, criminals will be with us for some time to come. Smartphones now constantly access the Internet and they are exposed to the same risks as desktops, tablets and laptops. Any device that accesses the Internet is at risk. Motor cars are fast becoming a popular topic of security conversations.

What does your phone say?

security screen

What are you doing with your Android smartphone to stay safe? If you ask me, I cannot even tell you exactly what (if any) security or antivirus software I have running on my phone. If I bother to go into the “Security” settings, I can confirm that the device and the SD card are encrypted. I am carefully optimistic. To find my device, I can confirm that “Remote Controls” and “SIM change alert” are switched on. Under “Device Administration”, the phone allows applications from sources other than Play Store to be installed.  Although Play Store seems to have every imaginable app you will ever need, it is likely that one may need the odd one not available there, so this setting if fine for most of us.

Security updates

Now we are getting to the real stuff and this is where my optimism may start waning. “Security policy updates” allows one to select automatic updates to the policy, and use preferred networks for updates. My optimism is back, as I see that these are switched on. Hang on – selecting “Check for updates” does not seem to do anything. Let me remain positive and assume there are no updates available. Sending security reports I will leave off, as I am not a supporter of allowing my devices to constantly chat with providers about my device and what I am doing with it.

What one needs to look for, importantly, are applications that provide antivirus security. The Internet virus “industry” is thriving and any device that accesses the Internet needs protection. Looking through my Android device’s applications, I am relieved to find “Android Antivirus and Security” is installed – probably by default. You cannot judge an app by its size, but 6.63 megabytes seems miniscule compared to some other apps, such as the 30.56 megabytes for “AllShare Cast Dongle S/W Update”, or Dropbox’s 60.52 megabytes. I can only trust that Android Antivirus and Security is doing its work properly.

Encrypt that disk

Security functions such as disk-encryption can be greedy when it comes to device performance. Google is not doing well here compared to Apple, whose devices use data encryption out-of-the-box. Google tried before to make default full-disk encryption mandatory for Android phones, but had to abandon the idea due to performance issues on some devices. Their latest operating system will require full disk encryption to be in place. The way they will handle devices that cannot cope, is for these devices to “declare” themselves short of memory and incapable of processing encryption routines.

In addition, Google wants devices that can handle the performance to do a “verified” boot. This will verify the authenticity and integrity of the phone software at different stages during the boot sequence and protect against attacks during boot-up that could stop the encryption process.

Whether security measures and encryption of data serve the purposes of law enforcement is a tricky debate, especially in the United States. Let us hope that we can strike a healthy, secure balance between protecting ourselves and keeping our private lives to ourselves.

Anton Venter

Anton covered Google technology for over four years from the the city of Johannesburg in South Africa. He has reviewed mobiles and Android devices for a number of local blogs and magazines; Anton loves researching and numbers.

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