How To Keep Your Android 5.0 Lollipop Phone Secure

Android has come a long way with regard to security in the last few years. Not only can you more easily secure your device to protect personal data, there are more tools that make all your other devices and accounts safe. Of course, none of that does you any good if you aren’t taking advantage of it. Let’s go over everything you can do to make Android as secure as it can be.

Lock Screen and Pinning

Some of your built-in security options will vary from one device to the next depending on OEM and Android version. As Android 5.0 Lollipop is finally starting to roll out en masse, it’s worth going over the new security features you’ll find. One of the most significant changes is the way the lock screen is handled. It will show your notifications by default, and if you choose to have a pattern, PIN, or password, lock, you can restrict which notifications show up there.

In Lollipop, you can control which apps contain “sensitive” content in the sound and notification menu. Under “App Notifications” you’ll find a list of everything installed on your phone. Each entry includes an option to mark it as sensitive, which keeps it from showing up on the lock screen. No matter what version of Android you have, the secure lock screen is your first line of defense. Some OEMs like LG and Samsung add extra unlock methods like Knock Code and the fingerprint reader, respectively. If security is even a passing concern, you should use one of the available methods.

So what if you don’t want to enter your unlock code every single time? On all recent versions of Android there’s a handy little feature in the Security menu. The “Automatically Lock” setting lets you choose how long after the screen goes off that the secure lock should kick in. There’s also a toggle to have the power button automatically lock or not. This way you can wake up your phone a few times without entering the password constantly. However, if you leave it sitting for a certain amount of time, it locks.

Android 5.0 Lollipop adds a new set of lock screen features called Smart Lock. You can set a location, device, or face that the phone will consider “trusted.” When this criteria is met, you can just swipe to unlock. Location is straightforward–simply choose a location and the phone will remain unlocked there but will revert to your secure lock screen when it leaves. The trusted device setting lets you mark a Bluetooth or NFC connection as trusted so when that device is connected, the phone will unlock without asking for your code.

The last one is probably the most interesting. Trusted face is a new version of face unlock (debuted in ICS) that works entirely in the background. After teaching the phone what you look like, it will scan for you in the background on the lock screen. If you are recognized as the owner, the lock screen automatically flips to swipe mode. If there’s no match, you get the secure method. It’s completely seamless.

There’s one more screen security feature that is exclusive to Lollipop, but it’s a little different. Head into the security menu to enable Screen Pinning and you can lock your phone or tablet to a single app. You do this by hitting the app switcher button while in the desired application, then tap the pin icon in the lower right corner of the card. To disengage the pinned screen, you must long press the app switcher button. This feature will optionally require the unlock code (PIN, pattern, etc.) to return to the main system UI. It’s handy for letting someone borrow your phone.


Full device encryption on Android is a contentious issue right now. This feature has existed for a few years, but as of Lollipop most devices will come encrypted by default. If yours isn’t encrypted, you can choose to enable it in the security menu. This will take an hour or more and you can’t use the device while it’s happening.

Encrypting your phone or tablet means the data stored on it cannot be accessed by a third party. On pre-Lollipop devices you’ll need to enter a PIN to start the device, but Lollipop makes that optional and includes pattern lock as a startup security method.

Risks of this procedure include the possibility you’ll lock yourself out permanently by forgetting your code. Some devices also have performance issues because of the increased CPU overhead

Android Device Manager

If you’ve never taken advantage of Android Device manager, now would be a good time to get acquainted with it. In years past there were apps like Cerberus and SeekDroid that could locate your device and remotely wipe it in the event it was stolen or lost. The problem with these apps has always been poor reliability. They aren’t integrated with the system so you occasionally have to re-enable them after updates. If you actually needed them, there’s a good chance they won’t work.

Things are simpler now that the Android Device Manager is a thing, and Google has consistently improved this feature since it debuted several years ago. ADM is already built-into virtually all phones as a part of Google Play Services. Just head into your security settings and make sure Android Device Manager is enabled under device administrators. Surprisingly, this is not the default setting on most phones.

So what does ADM do? If you lose the phone, you can head to Google’s device management page and access your phone or tablet’s current location or the last location that was reported when it was online. This is usually accurate to within a few meters. You can also make the device ring at full volume if it’s simply hiding in the couch cushions. Enabling ADM in the administrator settings allows you to remotely lock or erase the device.

The remote lock functionality is probably the best tool you have to get a lost phone back. Sure, it protects your privacy, but it can also show a message on the lock screen and a button to call you. There’s an official Device Manager app that can also be installed on your devices to locate and control any other phones or tablets you might have. It also supports guest logins so you can borrow a phone from someone else to quickly access a lost device.

Security Apps

Android security isn’t only about protecting your device, but protecting the information stored and accessed with it. That’s where a few handy third-party apps come into play. One of the coolest security apps on Android is Authy, which is a fantastic way to manage your two-factor authorization logins for almost any service that supports it. Enabling 2-factor on your accounts requires an additional single-use code to log in from any new device or browser.

Setting up 2-factor auth is different from one service to the next, but you can usually allow a third-party app to generate your access tokens. Authy has support for both scanning QR codes and inputting keys manually, but once it’s done, you can open up Authy to generate 2FA codes even if you’re offline. It also has secure backups and multi-device sync. If you’re going to use 2-factor, Authy is the best way to do it on Android.

Taking a step back from the complications of 2FA, simply having good passwords is enough for most people to be secure. Remembering strong passwords is hard, though. That’s where Lastpass and 1Password come in. These are the two leading password managers in my opinion, and they both have Android apps. Lastpass stores an encrypted archive of your passwords online so you never have to worry about losing anything (provided you don’t forget your master password, of course). it generates new strong passwords as well. This app has great auto-fill support on Android too. It costs $12 per year for mobile access to Lastpass.

1Password is a bit more flexible, but the app is clunkier. The 1Password archive can be stored locally for maximum security, but it’s also more vulnerable to loss. This service additionally has support for online sync via Dropbox. It will generate new strong passwords and can fill logins in most apps. It won’t work in as many places as Lastpass, but has a reputation for somewhat better security. A premium 1Password account is need for full functionality, which can be yours for a one-time fee of $9.99 on Android, but the desktop version costs $50.

What about Anti-virus?

There are more anti-virus tools in the Play Store than there have ever been, and certainly Android has become a more tempting target for malware authors. So, you may be wondering why I haven’t recommended any anti-virus apps. To be brutally honest, I don’t think there’s any convincing reason to use them.

Even a few years ago when Android itself was less secure, there were some basic safeguards in place to protect users. Apps can’t just install themselves as you browse around the web and tap on things. You need to explicitly enable sideloading and tap on the notification to install each app. That made it hard for things to sneak onto your phone. As for the Play Store, Google has the ability to remotely kill apps that are found to be malicious, a capability it has exercised on occasion.

All modern versions of Android have the Verify Apps system built-in, again as part of the Play Services framework. It scans all the apps on your phone to check for known malware signatures and help you uninstall anything suspicious. This originally just checked app packages as they were installed, but that left open the possibility that an app could be carrying some unknown strain of malware that could wreak havoc. However, an update to Play Services last year made Verify Apps a continuous background process. If you run a third-party AV app, you’re really just duplicating the functionality of Verify Apps.

Android takes care of itself much more than it used to, but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve on things a little. Just grab some apps like Authy, spruce up your lock screen, and get set up with Android Device Manager–you’ll be happy you did.


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