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The free and easy guide to improving security on your Android tablet

by Doug Drinkwater

October 18 2013

'Face Unlock' will improve security...but isn't as secure as a PIN or password
'Face Unlock' will improve security...but isn't as secure as a PIN or password

The words "Android" and "security" are rarely matched in a positive light, but are the concerns really justified? TabTimes set out to find some simple things you can do to truly lock down your Android tablet.

Concerns over Android security are not new. Numerous market researchers have dinged the Linux-based operating system for porous security over the years; McAfee data back in April confirmed that Android accounted for 97% of malware on mobile platforms, while a later study in August stated that Android malware had spiked 40% in the second quarter alone.

Android, though, does have its supporters when it comes to security. Other analysts have picked out Android as the ideal platform for enterprise tablets and Google itself has predictably paid little attention to security fears. Indeed, chairman Eric Schmidt recently insisted that Android is “more secure than the iPhone”.

Here’s a fast, easy and free guide to make sure your Android Jelly Bean (Android 4.1 or 4.2) tablet is protected.

Change the screen lock method

When Google introduced the first iteration of Android Jelly Bean (4.1) back in June 2012, one of the most noticeable changes was the introduction of Face Unlock. It was the first mass marketable attempt at a face-based log-in (Samsung has since offered face recognition on the Galaxy S4, Microsoft has pioneered picture-based authentication with Windows 8 and now Apple is on a similar path with the fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5S).

It’s a useful and relatively secure way of making sure no-one gets access to your device without your permission. To activate, go to your Android tablet’s security settings and under permissions, change the option from slide to Face Unlock. You should then be able to log-in just by looking at the screen.

A word of caution however, Face Unlock is extremely sensitive to lighting and is less secure than a pin or password, which you can also choose if you'd prefer.

Uncheck unknown sources for downloading apps

This should be fairly obvious, but you should always stick to Google Play for downloading apps and shy away from any third-party alternatives. This is often how hackers manage to infiltrate devices, with their duplicated or transformed apps often able to wreak havoc with your device or even steal sensitive information, such as log-in details from online banking apps. 

To avoid these risks, make sure you uncheck ‘download apps from unknown sources’ in settings.

(Worth reading: Researchers say Android antivirus solutions are not good enough & Android's overlooked security advantages in the enterprise)

Pen a brief note to the homescreen

When we think about Android security, we often think about digital risks and miss another threat entirely -- the possibility of your device being stolen.

I’ve always had a lost message appear on my iPad’s lock screen and it’s advisable you do the same with your Android tablet too. Of course, it's no guarantee that your device will be returned, but it will certainly increase your chances.

To add a message, go to settings and type a message to display on the lock screen.

Create multiple user accounts

Google arguably got one over Apple when it introduced multi-user accounts on Android 4.2, as this is something which isn’t do-able on iOS devices.

The multi-user accounts can be exceptionally useful for Android tablets shared in the home, classroom or even workplace, as they allow each user to customize their own apps, wallpaper and even tweak settings as they see fit. It also gives each user a level of privacy by having their own space on the device. 

To get things started, you’ll need to head to Settings, Devices and then Users, where you should see your own information and the option to add a new user in the top right corner.

Having done that, you should hand the tablet to the user in question and ask them to go through the enrolment process, which involves things like setting up Wi-Fi, updating pre-loaded apps and logging in to Google accounts. 

(Thinking of buying or already using an Android tablet? Subscribe to the free TabTimes for Android newsletter and get the latest news, reviews and analysis)

Activate the Android equivalent of Find My Phone

Back in July, Google quietly launched Android Device Manager, which is the equivalent of Apple’s Find My iPhone.

Android Device Manager lets you lock or erase the data from a lost device (you can also ring it) and can be put in effect by going to Settings, Device Administrators and selecting Android Device Manager.

Finally...download free antivirus software

Yes, Android is vulnerable to viruses, malware and spyware but there is an array of security apps on Google Play to help counter this.

Some of them won’t even cost a penny; AVG Mobile offers free tablet antivirus software, Avast’s Mobile Security & Antivirus serves up remote device lock and memory wipe functionality, and Norton Security Antivirus is also free.

Furthermore, Lookout Mobile Security doesn’t cost a dime and, like Find My iPhone, will sound an alarm when your device is lost. It will also flag the location when the battery is low and can capture an image of whoever has entered the password incorrectly five times.

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.
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