10 best ways to secure your smartphone

Lock your smartphone

We've said a million times, and we'll say it till we're blue in the face. Lock your smartphone. Lock your smartphone! We were also slightly dismayed (though not exactly surprised) to hear in our recent poll that a good third of our readers do not lock their phones. And we say unto you, there is absolutely no excuse not to, especially considering the vast array of options we have to do it now. Actually, you can wait a few minutes and pick from this list at the end. But right after. Not after a few rounds of Duet. Not after watching Netflix. Right then.

Now, you can lock (and unlock) your smartphone many, many ways, and they all have their benefits and their drawbacks, but somewhere, some mixture of method will work for you. So, let's get to it, shall we?


I love this. So much. All phones should have it... and soon, they will.

First up is Bluetooth, because not only is it ridiculously easy to use, but because it is what I personally use most of the day, every day. I work in a professional newsroom and it is loud. So I'm wearing bluetooth headphones when not working live newscasts trying to block out some of that noise and get some writing done. I use Bluetooth in the car, at home, and in bed; I even use it in the shower, though I would never bring my beloved Moto X in the shower with me. And because I have my beloved Moto X, I can use Trusted Bluetooth to keep my phone unlocked and ready to act on voice commands at all times. Once I connect to a 'trusted device', I unlock the phone once and it'll stay unlocked until I disconnect or decide to lock the phone using the button in the notification panel. And if I walk out of range of my device, it locks. So if my device walks off, or I do, my data is safe. Easy, but still secure.

Pebble locker

Don't have a Moto X? Don't fret! Trusted devices, which is Trusted Bluetooth and even more, is coming in Android L, so we'll all have that in a (hopefully) short while. And in the meantime, Pebble's got you covered with the Pebble Locker (opens in new tab) app, which is what many Android Central writers are using with their swanky Android Wear watches. I know it says 'Pebble' in the name, but once you pay the $2.99 in-app purchase, you can use it with any (non-LE) Bluetooth device, and WiFi too, but we'll get to that in a minute. Pebble Locker has some caveats for encrypted devices and devices with corporate apps that require pin/password locks, but for most users, it's a wonderful way to balance security and convenience.



As mentioned, Pebble Locker will also allow you to (un)lock your device based on WiFi networks. SkipLock (opens in new tab) is yet another option for this. While WiFi-based unlocking takes a bit more setup sometimes, it's also very handy to those who use it, and even without Pebble Locker or SkipLock, I know many a Tasker user who uses WiFi or a geo-fenced location to remove their lock screen and use their phone freely in their home. One drawback of this is that many of the implementations of this, especially in Tasker, automatically remove your lock once it's connected or within the geo-fenced area, without asking for your password at least once.

Knock Code (LG Only unless you're rooted)

Knock knock

LG's addition to the device security party was Knock Code, which was then brought to many other current LG phones. It's simple, it's not as finicky about where on the screen you tap as PIN or password locks, and it's almost fun, as far as methods of unlocking your phone go.

If you don't have one of the LG devices that supports it, and happen to be rooted, there's an Xposed module you could use - there's an Xposed module for everything these days - but we'd point you back towards Pebble Locker first, because it doesn't require root and it's super-simple. So, smoke 'em if you got 'em, but only if you got 'em.

NFC Unlock

Coming soon to a dryer near you, your Moto Skip!

Another feature from the Moto X that will hopefully come to more phones in the future: NFC unlocking. You have NFC tags, which can come in a plethora of sizes/shapes/colors/forms, even tattoos, which once they're written and recognized by your device will unlock your phone when you tap them. The great news is that they're easy and NFC tags are quite cheap and easy to accommodate to your life and habits. The bad news is that NFC tags are not something you can turn off or lock. If they're stolen (or copied) they can be used to unlock your device. Useful, but not something you'd want to keep in public places like a cubicle at work. There are third party apps to help bring this functionality to other phones, but this will hopefully be included in Android L as well.


Not our favorite, but for most people it works

I'm personally not really the biggest fan of replacing my fingerprint with the same fingerprint we leave smudged all over the device and the same fingerprint we give to the government. That said, hacking fingerprints still requires effort and intent, and most people quite simply don't have that. And fingerprints are perfect for the crowd that otherwise wouldn't lock their phone. Just remember not to fall asleep or pass out drunk around anyone who would want into your phone.


Passwords are wonderful things, but not all the time

Password, a real QWERTY password, is the original way to lock and secure a computer, and is still available to users who want a more robust lock method. And if you encrypt your phone (which most users should), you are required to use either a password or a PIN, so passwords are still used by a good many users on their phones. Passwords are harder to crack, but they're also harder to put in one-handed. At the very least, they take longer than just about any other lock method, and as much as we unlock our phones, many users simply cannot abide spending an extra two to five seconds pecking out a full-bodied password. We want into our phones, and we want in NOW. And while Trusted Bluetooth, NFC, and other sensor-based unlock methods can help our phones stay unlocked longer, you will still end up using your traditional lock screen method at least four to five times a day. So when picking a password, pick something that is hard to guess but easy for you to quickly type out.


Connect the dots any way you'd like

The most popular lock method in that poll from the beginning of the month is the pattern lock. It's simple, yet if you use all the dots - or if you can make an even bigger grid for the pattern to be woven through - pattern locks can be pretty secure. Of course, there's always the threat of a smudge trail to lead someone through the pattern - but that encourages you to keep your screen clean and clear. Patterns are also easy to remember through a variety of methods: you can equate each of the nine dots with the number that would sit there on a number-pad, or you can tie it into the wallpaper that sits behind it. If you're using something like Muzei, that may not be possible, but for those of you that are more faithful to your wallpapers, it's certainly an option.


Unlock your phone the way you unlock your bank card

If it's good enough for your debit card, it's good enough for your phone, right?

In terms of lock methods, PIN is second only to pattern in popularity. They're slightly harder to be guessed out by swipes, they can vary in length, and they're easy to copy down in a discreet place if you're the forgetful type. PINs are also a little harder to suss out from the smudges on the screen since they're not connected like a pattern. They're also one of the lock methods compatible with encrypting your device, and with corporate email apps and other security-sensitive apps, which may contribute to them being quite so popular.

A word about Face Unlock

When they have to give a disclaimer, you know something's up

Face Unlock has been loitering in Android for a few years now, and it's not very popular, and there's a few reasons for it. First, even a three year old can can hack it with Mommy or Daddy's photo, so in a selfie-crazy society letting your mug unlock your phone may not be the best thing in the world. Also, face unlock doesn't work in the dark or any other non-photogenic conditions, do you'll be using the backup method a lot. If you really want to use it, fine, we won't stop you, but we're not advocating it for any other reason than this…

Lock your phone now

There you have it. Lock your phone. We don't really care how you do it, just so long as you lock your phone somehow. Just do it. Right now. Right freaking now! And if you already do, great! Tell us what you use and why down in the comments below. And if you still prefer to live dangerously and take your phone out into the world with no protection, you dirty daredevil,

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

  • Slow news day? Posted via Android Central App
  • Stop being a dick on every AC article you comment on. OPO | G3 | N5
  • waiiiit, I'm rgao007 not Sax_Derp... wtf just happened OPO | G3 | N5
  • Sax_Derp there, showing us all who's boss. Apparently. Posted via Android Central App
  • Ya and don't you forget it Bernard Posted via Nexus 7 2013 or Galaxy S5
  • "Some of these tutorials will be far too elementary for many of you. And that's OK. You have my permission to skip them. And I strongly encourage us all to respect those who are just starting out and need the extra help. We're here for everyone." Straight from the boss's proverbial lips yesterday.
  • Regardless, you're still acting like a dick. Maybe you should change your name to BigRichard.
  • Its Labor Day and most people arent even working. Try CB where everyday is a slow news day written by the same 2 writers Posted Via AT&T Galaxy Note 3
  • I bet Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence wish they had read up on this. Posted from my LG LS970 via "The Force"
  • Actually Face unlock on most devices has the option that you have to blink to unlock, therefore stopping someone using a photo. I still won't use it though, it's too unreliable in low light.
  • Thing is, I'm Asian so it doesn't work too well. I'm being serious though, if I want it to work I have to open my eyes really wide in my face unlock setup. OPO | G3 | N5
  • Ahahahahahah I really had to laugh on this one bro Posted via Android Central App
  • First thing that came to mind was The Big Bang Theory episode where Barry Kripke tries to talk to Siri on his iPhone. The scene is very funny but, it also reminded me of the limitations of some technology.
  • Hahahaha.... That's funny dude
  • LOL for real?
  • There ought to be better fallback methods on pin and password locks. At least the pattern lock on my Samsung allows you to recover with your Gmail log in as well as a backup pin.
    There have been too many virtually heartbreaking stories in the Ask a Question thread. Lost photos of departed and infants following a device breaking or screen failing. A lot of people back up intermittently or not at all. You can't blame them for their ignorance or inexperience. At least you should be able to access via usb after answering sufficient prompts. I don't lock mine. If I lived or worked in close proximity to many I might. Posted via Android Central App
  • I guess I'm a dirty devil.
  • I don't want to lock my phone and you can't make me!
  • This article mentions no reason to lock a device, just "I lock mine and I'm right!"
  • On the next galaxy phone there should be a retinal scan option.
  • Excellent excellent advice! :) I use a PIN that locks after ten minutes of inactivity or immediately by pressing the power button. Sure it can be hassle at times, but better safe than sorry. I'll take the slight hit to convenience for some security (they're inversely proportional).
  • I can see the logic some people put into not locking their phones, after all you don't lock your wallet right?. Then again you can't do as much damage with a lost wallet as a thief can with a phone. For that matter you (I hope) don't take your wallet out and leave it sitting on a table while you run to the bathroom. If your credit cards are stolen with your wallet you are only responsible for a certain amount (if any) after reporting it stolen. But when they start posting on your behalf to social media or sending raunchy messages to your contacts, that is permanent. For that matter as they rack up your credit through buying tons of apps in the various digital media stores and as they place calls overseas on your behalf, take rest knowing that those charges, unlike a credit card, you are fully responsible for. If you can live OK with that, then by all means leave your devices without a lock. That said, my work has an encryption requirement and on a Samsung device that means a password of at least 6 characters with letters and numbers. After unlocking my device thousands of times using a letter/number combo I can type it in blind. It's not as hard as you think after unlocking it a few times. A pin is easier and pattern even easier so really, as AC commands, do it! The second commandment should be to activate the built-in free Android Device Manager (or the IOS find my device if that is how you roll) so if you do loose your device you can wipe it or at least lock it if you still did not heed the advice of this column.
  • I honestly don't see the point of locking. I mean wallets aren't locked so that a thief couldn't open them, right? And I view my phone right up there with my wallet....neither is EVER leaving me, aside from armed robbery. There is only one case in my entire life I've accidentally lost my wallet (which was quickly recovered), and zero times for my phone. Honestly, if people are so careless or carefree to lose a phone, maybe they shouldn't carry a wallet or purse either. Also, my phone has far far less data that would harm me than losing my wallet. I mean any app that accesses a bank or something requires a login which isn't stored on my phone. Again, if you're leaving instant access to the most sensitive data on a phone, maybe you should rethink carrying a wallet, and look into a class on personal responsibility, not how to lock a phone. Posted via Android Central App with my white Nexus 4 on Cricket
  • I don't lock my phone because I know if someone takes it I just have to log into my Google account and lock it. Posted via Android Central App
  • Assuming the realize it's missing and get access to a computer before the thief copies your important info.....
  • Not to make myself a target, but I can't bring myself to lock my phone. A) it's never away from me. Honestly, anyone who leaves their phone at their desk when they go to the restroom is an idiot (and that includes the guy sitting at the cube next to me). B) I turn it on and off a hundred times a day. C) I don't wear a bluetooth device or have one in my car.
  • I never lay mine down anywhere either except when I'm at home and I'm the only one there. At work it's on my hip. Out somewhere on personal time it's in my pocket.
  • I have a sneaky suspicion that I could unlock somewhere close to 50% of the phones using a knock code by tapping out "Shave and a haircut, two bits."
  • I recently set up my Llama app to leave the phone unlocked when I'm attached to my home wifi and to lock it with a PIN everywhere else. It's working very well and elminates the need to enter a PIN every time I pick up my phone at home. My phone usually is in my purse if I'm not at home and I don't leave my purse laying around in public but just in case I accidentally leave my phone on a table somewhere or something I know having it locked will stop the average (or lazy) person from messing with it. I also have my email address on the lock screen so that if a well intentioned person finds my phone they can contact me. I feel better knowing that people cannot just pick up my phone and start messing with it, whether they're friend or foe.
  • I have absolutely no desire to lock my phone. All the apps with data that needs secured are already protected by a pin. I don't have any nude pictures of myself on my phone (some other NSFW stuff of other people I don't even know and get paid to exploit their bodies, but who doesn't). I have the ability to lock my phone if it is out of my possession anyway, so what's the big deal? Posted via Android Central App on the Moto X
  • Google 2-step verification and android device manager is all you need!
  • Been using a pin with a thirty minute lockout for as long as I can remember. If that doesn't work then Cerberus should have my back. But I agree, lock your bot! njo¡! acApp
  • My exact setup too! I hope I never have to use Cerberus, but it reminds me every time I accidentally enter my code incorrectly and it takes my picture and emails it to me along with my IP address! Posted via Android Central App
  • If someone has my phone they have my email. If someone has my email they have have the ability to recover/reset all of my passwords. I'm not about to risk giving someone accesses to my banking, credit, and investment accounts. People who don't lock their phones either don't understand this or they have no assets worth protecting. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I use Tasker and Secure Setting app to stimulate both Bluetooth trusted devices and wifi networks. Also, I use Avast Security to apply a PIN lock to specific apps that dont otherwise have them, like Expensify which has a lot of credit card and receipt info Posted via Android Central App
  • I use Llama instead of Tasker and it gives me the option to remove my password after an unlock first in my home zone.
  • I decided to try Perfect App Protecter. I do not lock entire phone but just certain apps. I am able to select which and how many apps to lock ☺ Was easy to install and use Posted via Android Central App
  • Been using the same thing since I got my GS3. Posted via Android Central App
  • I realized it would be so easy for someone to steal my oneplus one. Even if I try to lock it down, they just need to boot into twrp recovery and factory reset. Then they can do what they please with it..... I guess unlocking bootloader, rooting, and installing custom recovery leaves your device very vulnerable... Wish there was a way to prevent this. The same could be done with any android phone that can be rooted and bootloader can be unlocked.
  • The fingerprint scanner on my S5 is enough for me. By the time someone would find my lost phone and try to hack it, I would have already remotely wiped it clean. Posted via My (unlimited everything) T-Mobile Galaxy S5...
  • I loved skip lock but now that I use knock code it's not supported so I have to sit and unlock my phone all the time still love my knock code though Posted via Android Central App
  • I use Skiplock. I don't like to use a lock screen when i'm home. It turns on my wifi when I get home and turns it off and enables the lockscreen when I leave. It does suck that it doesn't work with the knock code though. I'm missing using that feature.
  • I use Automate it Pro which does similar to skiplock. When I get home it automatically turns on my Wi-Fi and disables the lock screen. When I leave home it turns off the Wi-Fi and enables the lock screen. Good stuff. Posted via Android Central App
  • SkipLock is a great trusted network method that I use Posted via Android Central App
  • I can't believe how fast I became reliant upon the Bluetooth Trusted Devices on my Moto X. Just last night, I left my phone sitting on top of the self-checkout at the store. When I reached the parking lot, I heard "Disconnected" in my ear. I turned off my Douchetooth and headed back inside. Without the connection, it had defaulted to the Pattern unlock. Posted via Android Central App
  • I have this strange feeling that I should be doing something now
  • Lol these methods can't touch xposed module "theftie"..... I run it .. My phone is impossible yo get into . E980 Note 2 Killer
  • When will Google finally implement scramble pad for the PIN keypad where the order of the numbers is randomly changed. It took my niece less than a day for her to figure out her mom's pin code looking at the screen smudges and the movement of her mom's hands doing the repeated pin entry each time she used the phone.
  • okay - okayy - OKAAYYY I have locked it now ;)
  • All the 10 methods are the same: lock the phone. What about the OTHER methods to secure a phone? What about an article about pros and cons of encrypting the SD card? What about a guide to use device manager? And BTW - lock via bluetooth is NOT SECURE - because if you leave your phone on your desk and went to the other room - chances are that its STILL unlocked because BT easily penetrates at least one wall !!!
  • Use Google Authenticator as well. At least a few of the celebs were hacked because of an exploit in the "Forgot my password" feature; two-stage verification is designed to prevent these kinds of account thefts.
  • Okay, okay, I've locked my phone! Used to use a pattern, but didn't like it after a while. Then switched to a PIN but soon got tired of that. Haven't done anything in probably a year, but now it's locked with a password. Guess what it is. Ha! I knew you couldn't. :-)
  • Bluetooth trusted device is the one that will get me into using the lock features once more. Though I was somewhat happy about that fingerprint one as well. I don't have thaaaat much that I need to worry about, but when it gets to the point where it's easy, then why not protect.
  • I pretty much only lock my phone when I go out drinking. That's probably the only time I'd lose it. (Nexus 5) Posted via Android Central App
  • I use gesture and when at home, I just simply disable lock in quick toggles.
  • Hello, i really like all ways to secure android smartphone!! thanx a lot for giving more ideas about secure android smartphone
  • These lock screen techniques are not totally secure, as somebody who peeps over your shoulder could see the secret word or the pin when you are entering it.Here is an Android device unlocking feature that leaves you wondered.Read more at:http://birmingham.fortuneinnovations.com/news/android-device-unlocking-f...
  • The ideas that are given in the article are all good. I would like to thank the writer for these useful tip. I would use them in my iDROID King by none other than iDROID USA. It is the new phone that I bought and it has rocking specifications! Go here if you want more details: http://www.idroidusa.com/english/idroid-king.html
  • Old article that I just found while looking for something else. ... I use lock all the time, but wish I had found this article years ago...i missed out on the TRUSTED places and wow, what a difference. Thanks!