Last Updated: February 20, 2019
Google’s Android operating system powers many popular cellphones including the popular Samsung Galaxy S9. Most Android Smartphone users as well as most of the pubic at large do not think very much about security.
If your phone is not running the latest Android Monthly security patches or is Android 6 or older, you are open to attack. A recent Wall Street Journal article showed that only 2.8% of Android devices have the latest security patches. Compare that to 79% of iPhones, due to Apple’s more uniform eco-system.
As of February 2019 only Android 7 to 9 receive security updates now)
Most Up to Date Android Smartphones
This flagship phone runs the latest Android version and is patched regularly. Sold directly from Google or from a couple wireless carriers.
You can check this Google Support page that shows when updates will be available for Google devices and when devices stop getting updates.
We will cover some techniques to enhance your Android phone security.
Most hardware vendors like Samsung stop issuing updates after 3 years of release. Need a good reason to upgrade to a new phone? This is it. Incapacitate then recycle your old phone to prevent reuse.
Samsung SmartSwitch helps you update phones on Windows or Mac.
If you have an Phone or Tablet that no longer gets updates, we would recycle it and buy a new one RIGHT away. Keep in mind that Android Patch in July 2017 is the first version that fixed a Huge Broadcom Wi-Fi bug. Without that fix, you can get hacked by just having a Wi-Fi signal nearby.
Google Play Protect
- Be sure your device is running Google Play Protect. It scans for Malware and bad apps. This was release in July 2017 and runs on Google Play Services 11 or higher. This is a unification of Android security systems like Verify Apps, browser protection, and anti-theft measures.
You need to test your Android Device for Vulnerabilities
Here are the major security holes that you need to test your phone against. If your phone fails any of these, get it updated or buy a new phone.
2/1/2019: Google has patch a major bug in Android where you can get hacked just by looking at a picture in a SMS, Email, or web page! Update your Android software to Patch Level February 2019 or later, right away. If your phone no longer gets updates, please consider buying a new one.
Why is Android more susceptible to attack?
- Older Smartphones with unpatched old versions of Android
- Many phones never being given latest updates
- Bigger audience to attack due to market share
- Chipset vendors fixes slow to reach public
- Multiple App stores
- Apps are not thoroughly vetted
- Bloatware, trialware from handset makers
- Malware introduced in production chain
The Android Smartphone is part of Android’s open ecosystem, making viruses and malware more possible than closed platforms like the iPhone. As the Android Smartphone has grown in popularity, the smartphone has become more of a target by hackers and criminals. The DroidDream and Plankton Android malware infected over 250,000 phones before anyone discovered their malware. Google removed over 58 malicious apps from this single malware. A recent survey has shown that only 30% of Android Smartphone users installed security software on their phones. Malware can grab private data or use the phone to communicate externally.
Carrier IQ is a controversial piece of software that can show you what certain Android phones and spyware can do if the carriers allow it.
It is important that Android Smartphone users immediately become more vigilant about smartphone security. Our tutorial covers the Android Smartphones running most versions of the Android operating system.
Android Vulnerabilities.org gives a snapshot of how many devices are insecure.
The NSA and Android
Did you know that the NSA has been programming for Android and has inserted its code into the operating system? This has been happening since 2011 and has been focused on adding code to prevent hackers and marketers from accessing personal data on your Android device. Devices including the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One have NSA code embedded, but not enabled by default. Apple does not accept code from government agencies. Android is open source, so programmers can more easily scrutinize every line of code that is in it. Hopefully the NSA will not add monitoring code in the future.
1. Android Smartphone Software Updates
Google upgrades the Android software for the Android Smartphone all the time. Montly Updates include additional functionality as well as security bug fixes. It is important that users apply updates immediately. Yes, updates take a while to install, but you do need to do it right away. Contact your smartphone vendor for the latest Android software update to your handset.
Some handset makers take their time to release Android updates. Beware. This is the MAIN reason why millions of Android phones go unpatched. Buy a phone that use plain Android and can take updates directly from Google, like the Google Nexus or Pixel line.
Replacing an Android Phone due to Lack of Updates
If you have an Android Smartphone that does not get the latest Android updates, we highly recommend you REPLACE the smartphone with a new one that does. Unfortunately you will need to switch phones every 2-3 years to keep up to date. Recycle the phone, do not give it away.
This Google support page shows you the status of Google Nexus Software updates and security updates.
These Nexus phones, tablets are have no guaranteed security updates after October 2017!
- Nexus 10
- Nexus 9
- Nexus 7
- Nexus 6
- Nexus 5
- Nexus 4
If you Root your Android Smartphone, you need to be extra careful with regards to security as updates are much more difficult for you. Be careful where you obtain your Android Apps as malware is much more prevalent. Rooting also exposes your device’s internal hardware to software much more so than normal. This is the equivalent of running your PC as Administrator.
2. Android Smartphone App Security
Apple’s App Store reviews all submissions before adding them, but Google does not thoroughly review Apps added to their store. Google does run a security scanner on apps to ensure that they do not include known malware. There have been several occasions where Apps containing malware have entered the Google play formerly known as Android Market.
Neither App Store technique is full proof, users need to be careful when installing apps.
Apps are prone to security vulnerabilities that are fixed by updates. Keep apps updated regularly and remove apps that you do not use. To update applications do the following:
- Tap the Notification menu at the top and drag it downwards. If there are App updates available, they will be shown
- Tap on App updates to bring you to Google play formerly known as Android Market
- Tap the App to be updated
- Repeat the process for all Apps
Google has the ability to remotely remove malicious apps from your Android Smartphone. This is NOT true if you buy from 3rd party App store.
When installing new Apps, we suggest you install well known Apps from Google play formerly known as Android Market or Amazon App Store with positive reviews, and avoid brand new Apps from unfamiliar companies, and unofficial 3rd party App stores like mmoovv.com or samsunggalaxy-s.ru.This becomes a problem when the official App Market is blocked, such is the case in China.
It is fairly easy to repackage free Apps into a clone of the App. Repackaged Apps that also include Malware or Spyware have been encountered on 3rd party Android Markets. Free pirated versions of paid Apps are also found on 3rd party sites. Download only from the official App Market and give new Apps time to build trust and to allow others to help test the App for malware and security risks.
Users also need to be aware that scareware where apps are displaying advertisements for battery saving apps have been tied to malware. If the user taps on the ad, your phone’s browser launches and proceeds to download the apps file. These apps could endanger your privacy by stealing your address book, or cause money to be withdrawn from your accounts via costly phone calls or SMS messages.
3. Suggested Android Smartphone Settings for Security
Below are several suggestions for Android Smartphone settings to increase security on the smartphone. If you use swipe patterns to unlock the phone, make sure you clean your Android devices’ screen regularly otherwise people can see how your pattern looks. Doing repeated circular or square patterns helps foil thieves.
- Open Settings
- Select Security
- Select Screen Lock
- Select Password
- Enter a Passcode – Do not select an obvious passcode like 1234a or 1111a
Google automatically encrypts its Nexus smartphones, but other companies are not required to do this. As of 2016, less than 10% of Android phones had encryption enabled. 80% of iPhones had encryption turned on. Android 6 Marshmallow requires encryption to be enabled by default.
Encrypt your Android Smartphone and require a PIN or password to decrypt it every time you power it on. It takes an hour or longer to initially encrypt your Smartphone. Older Android phones many operate slower when encryption is enabled. Launching apps might take a second or two longer. Turning on encyption requires a full battery or the phone connected to a charger.
- Open Settings
- Select Security
- Select Encrypt phone
- Click Encrypt phone
Lock SIM card makes your phone require a PIN before becoming enabled.
- Open Settings
- Select Security
- Select Set up SIM card lock
- Select Lock SIM card
If you are not using any Bluetooth devices, disable Bluetooth to increase battery life and prevent security risks.
- Open Settings
- Select Wireless and Networks
- Uncheck Bluetooth
Backing up your Android Smartphone regularly is an important task. If you have a rooted Android Smartphone use the ROM Manager and Titanium Backup root and MyBackupRoot. Regular Android Smartphones need to pay for backup Apps like MyBackup Pro. There are free Apps to backup individual areas like SMS, images, or Applications.
4. Android Smartphone Email Security
It is important that email accounts accessed from a smartphone are setup utilizing encryption when available. Many email providers including Google’s Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, AOL Mail and Yahoo Mail support SSL (secure sockets layer) when accessing their mail servers. If SSL is not used, your emails as well as your password can be read by hackers. Most major email providers automatically activate SSL if you let Android setup your email account.
If you are setting up a new email account, make sure that you have enabled SSL or TLS in the Security type field for both the incoming and the outgoing mail server.
To check an existing Mail Account for secure SSL access, do the following:
- Open Email application
- If Combined Inbox is shown, Select a mail account by tapping Accounts then Select the email account. Otherwise, hit Menu then Account Settings
- Check Incoming settings and Outgoing settings
- Examine the Security Type field
- Verify that it is not set to None
If it is set to None, check with your email provider to verify their SSL support and enable it if possible.
Also, make sure your email account has been cleansed with a good spam filter. This is a basic requirement of any solid email provider. If your email vendor needs spam filtering assistance, consider accessing the email account via POP inside a Gmail account.
APG – public key encryption for emails and files.
5. Find a Lost Android Smartphone, Erase a Lost Android Smartphone
Andrdoid 5.1 and higher includes a Device Protection feature. This is required on all phones manufactured after June 30, 2015 and sold in California. You can set it up in the Lock screen settings. It requires you be signed into your Google account.
If you are running an older version of Android, you need a 3rd party app to handle finding a lost phone.
Lookout has a Free App called plan b that helps you find a lost Android Smartphone by showing it on a map. This free service is a life saver and should be one of the first items installed. Some similar Apps include:
- Android Lost – Locate, wipe, lock, take pictures, and much more
- MobiUCare – Find, lock, wipe, and more
- Prey – Open source, cross-platform, lost phone or tablet protection
- Wheres My Droid – Find your lost phone, password protection, notification of changed SIM card. Paid Pro version includes remote phone erasing
When you lose your device utilize the lost device App you installed. If you cannot access the device, make sure you contact your Wireless carrier so they can disable the device. If you recover your Smartphone, make sure you change all passwords.
Also consider creating a special graphics file with your emergency contact information that can be used as your lock screen. If you are having a life threatening emergency, people could still access this information. If your Android Smartphone is lost and password protected, people could still contact you. Alternately you could install Phone Found App.
6. Using WiFi securely
When accessing a wireless network outside the home, exercise caution. Any information sent over an external wireless may be subject to eavesdropping. Unless you know the Wi-Fi network is secure, we would recommend against connecting to it.
If you really want to use an unfamiliar wireless connection, limit usage to non-critical apps, email, and web. Do not e-mail, online shop, online bank, or online trade from public wifi hot spots or cyber cafes. Many of these locations provide little to no security and are prone to snooping or malware.
The Android Smartphone can remember wireless networks by name and automatically log into them. This convenience function turns into a security problem because the Android Smartphone will automatically send the same password to a wireless network of the same name. So if you name your wireless router, Linksys, if you encounter another wireless router with the same name, the Android Smartphone will automatically use the password. A hacker could exploit this to obtain your wireless router’s password. We suggest you do not enable any automatic joining to wireless networks. The Android Smartphone is very good at transparently switching from a cellular data network to a Wi-Fi wireless network. You can turn off Wi-Fi auto connect by the following:
- Open Settings app
- Choose Wireless & Networks
- Select Wi-Fi Settings
- Uncheck auto connect
When accessing the Internet on a smartphone or tablet, using the built in 3G/4G connection is a lot safer than connecting via a local wireless internet hotspot. This warning applies to both apps and mobile internet browsers.
The safest way to use a public wireless network is by employing a VPN (virtual private network) which securely tunnels all of your Android Smartphone’s traffic through a secure server. There are many paid services that sell VPN access.
Disable WiFi when you are not accessing wireless networks. This will extend your battery life and increase security.
7. Secure Browsing with Android “Browser”
Force websites to use secure connections – It is important to utilize secure connections or HTTPS whenever possible. Several large websites have configuration options to force these secure connections. Here is more information on configuring HTTPS with: Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Google. Google.com defaults to HTTPS if you are signed into your Google Account, if you are not, just manually add the s after http to force a secure connection i.e – https://www.google.com
Use a password manager to create, use, and store passwords for websites. See our password manager guide for details.
8. Careful Link Clicking and Attachment Opening
As we have learned on computers, clicking on links in email can lead to viruses or malware being installed. We need to take the same precautions and more, on an Android Smartphone. Avoid clicking links in email, text messages, and websites that are unfamiliar to you.
Email attachments require the same amount of caution. Only open attachments when they are expected. Avoid opening your email provider’s spam folder and do not open any attachments in your spam folder.
Opening Attachments Safely with Gmail
Forward the email with attachment to a Gmail account. From there, you can use Google Docs to open Word Processing, Spreadsheets, etc. No need to endanger your own computer.
9. Android Smartphone Free Antivirus and Internet Security Software
Android Smartphone anti virus software is available and highly recommended because of the open Android Market for Apps. Be aware that fake anti-malware Apps have appeared, so stick to brand name antivirus Apps.
Antivirus Free – free antivirus App for Android
AVG Antivirus – free mobile security and antivirus App for Android
DR. Web Anti-virus Light – free antivirus App for Android
GuardX – free antivirus App for Android
Lookout – free mobile security and antivirus App for Android
Norton Mobile Security – free mobile security and antivirus App for Android
Webroot Secure Anywhere Mobile – Free Mobile Phone and Tablet security antivirus protection.
Android Smartphone security Apps
Orbot: Tor on Android – Enhance your privacy, break through firewalls and communicate more safely.
WhisperCore – Encryption and Firewall App for Android
10. Android Market Password and Payment Option
You can delete the payment information in your Google account after making a purchase. You must have a payment method in order to make purchases or make refunds. If you are very cautious, remove payment information when you do not anticipate App purchases.
11. Malicious QR Codes
QR codes are appearing in print and all over the place. Be aware that malicious QR codes that lead the user to download malware have been found. Be sure you check the link the QR code points to before using it.
12. NFC – Near Field Communication
NFC has been touted as using your phone as a contact-less credit card. It is being hyped up by smartphone manufacturers as well as credit card firms. This technology opens up a new way of hacking your credit card info. TURN IT OFF and avoid it. This recent Defcon presentation shows how a security researching skimmed a NFC credit card and used it.
To disable NFC on the Samsung Galaxy S III and other phones:
- Tap Apps
- Choose Settings
- Scroll down the screen and tap More Settings
- Uncheck the NFC box
- Close the Settings app
13. Avoid Huawei and ZTE Android Smartphones
These Chinese companies are drawing a lot of attention. Congress suggests people avoid their products due to possible suspicious equipment behavior.
We have covered many ways to improve your Android Smartphone security. Utilizing our tips will help significantly improve the already good security of the Android Smartphone.
14. Stagefright MMS Messaging Bug
August 2015. A specially crafted MMS message can cause your phone to be taken over. Many old phone may never get updated to fix this.
If you’re using Google Hangouts as your default SMS client, disable automatic downloading of media files sent via MMS:
Settings – SMS – Auto Retrieve MMS uncheck
Here’s how to protect your phone from the if you are using Google Messenger (the default SMS client for Android Version 5.0+):
Messenger – Settings – Advanced – Auto Retrieve OFF
Here’s how to protect your phone from the if you are using Messages (the default SMS client for Samsung Galaxy S6):
Messages – More – Settings – More Settings – Multimedia messages – Auto Retrieve OFF
15. Secure Messaging
Law enforcement and probably the NSA use cell phone tower simulators called Stingrays, IMSI catchers, or dirtbox made by Harris. These fake cell phone towers slurp handset identification information and can snoop on data. They deploy these in small planes to net a ton of intercepts, without getting a warrant. Cell phone users have no right to privacy in public areas.
Disable 2G On Android prior to 5.0 – Stops Stingray
1) Pull up the phone dialer and dial *#*#4636#*#* (that spells INFO)
2) This brings you to the Testing screen where can select “Device information”.
3) Scroll down a little and it should say “WCDMA Preferred” or similiar.
4) Change it to WCDMA Only.
It will now stay on 3G/4G/4GLTE and avoid the old school GSM 2G Data towers, keeping you safe from older Stingrays.
Note: Google removed this option on Lollipop 5.0.
16. Public Charging – Video Jacking
Do not use a public phone charging cable, it could be capturing video video HDMI recording while you charge aka Video Jacking. Always use your own charging cable.
17. Secure your mobile phone’s account from hijacking or Port-Out Scams
Hackers have been calling wireless carriers like: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon asking them to switch control of mobile phone numbers to themselves.
They will repeatedly call, hundreds of times, and make up all kinds of sob stories to get control. Once they hijack control, they will reset passwords of any device that uses that phone number as a security backup via SMS Text or two factor authentication. IE Google, Facebook, Twitter, Bitcoin accounts, etc.
How do you protect against phone hijacking?
- FTC has details
- Do not use your cell phone number in the first place!
- Use two factor authentication that uses a physical key or Google Authenticator App, not Text
- AT&T – Enable an account passcode
- Sprint – Customers setup a PIN when first signing up
- T-Mobile – Enable a customer care password
- Verizon – Setup an account PIN
T-Mobile customers can also call in to the company’s customer support line and place a separate “SIM lock” on their account, which can only be removed if the customer shows up at a retail store with ID.
Be sure to use Google Authenticator instead of Text messages for second factor authentication when possible.
If your phone stops receiving a signal and says “emergency calls only” or “no network,” even after you restart your phone, contact your mobile carrier to see whether your account has been hijacked.
Android is a sophisticated operating system. Because of the nature of its diverse eco-system, users unfortunately need to be proactive to keep their device secure and up to date.
Do you have any Android Security Tips?