How to Check Your Phone Security Settings

Use the code on your smartphone [London, UKIt's always a good idea to add protection to any device that carries sensitive data. This might be in the form of security software to tighten the defences of a device itself, or it might be an insurance policy to protect against any loss, or damage to your device.

But the developers of the operating systems our smartphones depend on are also doing their part. So while some security software additions to a phone are helpful, making the most of on-device security settings is nothing short of best practice.

The place to start is to ensure any phone can be effectively locked. This means adding a PIN/passcode, a lock gesture or - for Android - facial recognition. The last of those is probably the least used, but any lock is better than none. PIN codes are standard to iOS and Android devices, but are switched off by default, while gesture lock functionality comes as a standard Android option and can also be added to iOS via an app.

Beyond this 'front door' lock, awareness of additional phone settings will improve user knowledge when it comes to phone and data security. As a bonus, becoming familiar with these settings will also be useful if future features arrive in new software versions.

For Android, one such addition in the 'Jelly Bean' update highlights this perfectly. Under the 'Personal' header in the Settings app is 'Security'. In here is the new 'Verify Apps' checkbox, which when selected will check the safety of any app downloaded from Google's servers. Importantly, it's on by default and will be obvious to anyone with a knowledge of security settings on previous Android devices.

Verify apps also sits on the same page as some other useful options. At the top of this page you can find 'Screen Security'. This covers how long your phone remains unlocked for when it sleeps, and whether pressing the power button instantly locks your device. Below 'Screen Security' come options to encrypt all of the data on your phone and to 'Show Passwords'. This won't show the whole  password, but will show the last character typed into any password field on your phone. It's off as standard to protect from prying eyes.

Just above the aforementioned 'Verify Apps' option is another setting to help safeguard content, and that is 'Unknown Sources'. Again an option that is off by default, this allows installation of apps via 'sideloading' – from sources other than the Play Store. More knowledgeable users may occasionally sideload, but even if ‘Unknown Sources’ is active, the first time something is installed this way a user will be asked if they want to verify such apps with Google (as of Android 4.2).

Apple takes a somewhat different approach, although the settings on iOS mirror the more universal security options that come with most smartphones. Screen lock and 'passcode' (PIN) lock options are included under Settings > General. But with its strong preference for all user content to come via iTunes and the App Store, Apple has no on-device options for checking app or data safety. Arguably it doesn't need to, as each app it allows into the App Store is individually vetted. Still, that hasn't stopped some changes making their way into iOS 6.

Such a change can be found under Settings > Privacy, which is where Apple has decided to address the issue of individual app permissions. With questions being raised over what iOS apps have access to (such as users' contact lists), Apple has seen fit to address the issue.

In this part of the iOS settings you can see at once the apps requesting access to your location, contacts, photos, calendar – and even social network accounts details. Then, under each service, you can review and disable access for individual apps. Such a measure might not be seen as a 'security' setting in the traditional manner, but it empowers the user and should be kept an eye on to see which apps can access which information or services.

The second useful feature brought about by iOS6 is a change to the free Find My iPhone app. It adds Lost Mode, a remotely activated lock option that can show a customisable message. The idea being that if you lose your device, you can lock it via iCloud or a friend's iOS device. Then, if anyone comes across your phone, they can contact you. Like iOS permissions settings this isn't really a traditional security setting at all, but it's well worth looking at.

After all, like any of the options mentioned above, helping to keep your phone and data secure is what security settings are for. It's a really good idea to make yourself aware of them, and implementing them in a smart way can't hurt either. 

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