/ configurationmoto esecurity

Securing Android on a Moto E (a walk through the Security settings)

I’m still fairly new to Android, and keep stumbling over features I didn’t know exist. Like last week, when I found and enabled the encryption feature. (And then factory reset the phone to disable it after noticing a performance hit. Ugh.)

But it got me wondering what other features Android has provided for (reasonable) protection. So here’s a list of the reasonably fast, easy stuff to setup… shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to run down the list.

Notes:

  • To access security settings, open the Settings application and scroll down to the Security section.
  • Also, I’m currently running KitKat (Android 4.4.4), soyour screens may be organized differently.
  • This is all on a Moto E, so some features may be provided by Motorola and are not native to Android.

Screen Lock

What does it do?

Your first line of defense against someone randomly accessing your phone, there are three secure options to choose from on the Moto E. (The default “Slide” option is only good for slowing down little kids… or stopping you from butt-dialing.)

  • Pattern: Trace a unique pattern with your finger over a grid of 9 dots. Provides anywhere from 389000 to 1 million unique combinations (depending on who you ask).
  • PIN: Choose a 4 to 16 digit password. Provides nearly 10 quadrillion combinations.
  • Password: Choose a 4 to 16 alphanumeric password. An estimated 94 allowable characters provides a possible 16^94 (over 1.5e+113) combinations.

What I recommend…

Set something. Try them all and find out which is easiest. Personally, I find the pattern or PIN preferable (easier to enter) than the password, and the PIN slightly easier than swiping my finger all over the phone to form a pattern.

security walkthru 10 owner info

In any case, choose a good random one.. no dob, kids’ ages, your address, (square, in the case of the pattern), etc. A unique 6-digit PIN is better than a password of.. “password”. :p

mel-brooks-spaceballs

Note

Some devices with a front-facing camera (not the Moto E) have the ability to unlock by facial recognition. Don’t have it, not covering it, but you might want to experiment with it if you’ve got it.

Automatically Lock

What does it do?

The “automatically lock” feature goes hand-in-hand with the “sleep” feature (under Settings / Display).

  • The latter ensures your phone locks if you leave it unattended too long.
  • The former gives you a grace period, after it locks, in which to turn it back on without having to enter your PIN/password again.

What I recommend…

Find settings that provide decent protection without driving you nuts.

I found 2 minutes to sleep, with a 5 second grace period on the automatic lock, to be manageable.

security walkthru 03 security option

security walkthru 04 security option

Power Button Instantly Locks

What does it do?

You can tell the phone to immediately lock when you press the power button. Normally, you get the amount of time specified by the “automatically lock” setting above, to turn your phone back on without logging in again.

What I recommend…

Enable it. If I’m intentionally pressing the “power” button before walking away from the phone, I want it to lock immediately.

Enable Widgets

What does it do?

This setting affects a separate set of widgets than the ones you’ll usually interact with… the widgets you can set on the lock screen. They can be handy, but there are some security considerations there too.

What I recommend…

In my experience, almost any interaction with widgets on the lock screen, beyond viewing them, requires you to login first. Enabling them should be fine, but if you’re concerned and want to disable them, just deselect this box:

security walkthru 06 security option

Owner Info

What does it do?

You can specify some text to display on the lock screen. While owner-related info would be practical, you could enter any message you want.

security walkthru 07 owner info

Here’s the lock screen, displaying my message immediately under the time.

security walkthru 08 owner info

**What I recommend…

**

It couldn’t hurt to display your home phone or an alternate cell, in the hopes some altruistic individual will get in touch with you. Anything’s possible. A more proactive approach would be to setup your phone to enable tracking.

Encrypt Your Phone

TL;DR / What I recommend…

Don’t bother with it, unless you understand what it does and need it for some reason.

What does it do?

Encrypts your phone, duh. Actually, I didn’t find anything detailing what exactly the encryption process does.

I’m going to gloss over it with a few personal thoughts:

  • It’s disabled by default. If it were superior in every way to “unencrypted”, it’d be the default and you wouldn’t see an option.
  • Some people report that it botched their device, requiring a factory reset.
  • Some people report that it affected performance, slowing down their devices.
  • There’s no “undo” feature, other than a factory reset and wiping the phone.

My experience:

Despite knowing the above, I tried it anyway. It slowed the phone down and made it behave.. erratically. At times, I had to enter my PIN twice to login. Other times, I was taken to the lock screen while scrolling through a blog post. After resetting the phone a week or so ago to undo it, the erratic issues completely disappeared.

My phone has 4GB of internal memory and a 32GB SD card. The encryption process only took about 10 minutes, when they warn it could take an hour (most devices have a lot more than 4GB internal). That suggests the encryption only takes place on the device itself, not the SD card. Seeing as how you can offload applications, application data, documents, photos, etc. to the SD card, what is the point of only encrypting the device??

Make Passwords Visible

What does it do?

Displays the most recently typed character in password fields for a moment, before it turns into a dot. This can make it much easier to see what you’re typing as you type it.

What I recommend…

Enable it. The greater benefit of knowing as early as possible when you type an incorrect character (especially on smaller screens, where there’s a greater chance of typos), outweighs the lesser benefit of hiding your password from stealthy ninjas peeking over your shoulder.

security walkthru 11 show passwords

Unknown Sources / Verify Apps

What do they do?

Both of these settings relate to application security. I wrote about them before.

What I recommend…

Disable the first, enable the second. You can always enable “unknown sources” temporarily if and when you have a reason to.

And more…

There’s plenty more to investigate in the security settings alone, let alone the rest of the settings, but I think these are a good start for someone new to Android who is looking to be proactive where security is concerned.

Do you have any good security practices to share? Any settings I overlooked that you’d recommend?

Please let me know in the comments!


Grant Winney

Grant Winney

I write when I've got something to share - a personal project, a solution to a difficult problem, or just an idea. We learn by doing and sharing. We've all got something to contribute.

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