Privacy and security are the most important aspects of any mobile device in the wake of the NSA scandal. Everything that a consumer does in the mobile world can be a security risk if the proper steps are not taken to secure their smart device. This is especially true for Android equipped hardware, currently the number one mobile device operating system, due to the open source nature of the base OS.
Don't worry! Your Android device will be as secure as any other as long as you know where to look, what changes to make, and why these changes are necessary.
Lock Your Phone
This seems like the most obvious security step to take, but many people choose function over security and leave their phones unlocked. A PIN number is only four digits and can easily be entered using only one hand. To activate the Locking feature on your phone, enter the Settings of your phone and then choose the Security & Screen Lock option. Simple as that.
The upside of using the PIN to lock your phone is the increased security on your phone and the peace of mind that only the most determined of hackers will be able to access your phone once locked. The downside of using the PIN lock security feature is the inability to pick up your phone and instantly access the apps and features you love.
Install A Security App
For that extra-added layer of security, consider installing a security-focused app. There are literally thousands listed on the Google Play Store and a few are by major security software companies like Norton and McAfee. Do your research here because the apps come and go. I would suggest checking out AV-Test, as they are an independent antivirus-testing center and continually monitor antivirus offerings for effectiveness and value.
Security apps not only provide protection from malicious software and attacks on your mobile device, but also include services and features not included with the base Android OS that are standard with other OS brands. A few of the bonus features included with some security apps are a find-my-phone feature for lost or stolen mobile Android devices and the ability to back up your phone.
The permissions that are assigned to any app at the time of installation are the first line of defense against malicious software. Each time an app is installed, the Android OS will present a pop-up window listing the app's specific phone access requirements. Do not quickly press Accept and move on. This is the best chance to stop malicious software before it can do any damage. Does your new translation app request access from services that are inappropriate? How about the new game app that wants to access your phones camera? These are quick clues that the app you are installing might not be everything it pretends to be.
Take your time when looking at the app permissions. Android is known for the archaic and difficult presentation of permissions. However, the newest versions of the Android OS attempt to make understanding the app permissions an easier process to wade through. Just tap a specific permission to learn more about it. Unfortunately, app permission are an all or none choice. If there is a permission that makes you uncomfortable, your only option is to stop installation and look for a new app without the same permission request.
Use The Google Play Store
One of the most touted aspects of the Android OS is the ability to 'sideload' software onto your smart device. While having the ability to add any usable software to your device without needing permission from the device maker is wonderful, sideloading can also lead to trouble in even the best of situations.
To have the highest chance at safety for your device, only download apps from the Google Play Store. Google takes steps to check and ensure that malicious apps are removed from listings and, while there have been mistakes in the past, the service is miles better than it used to be.
Keep in mind, while there are reputable third party app download sites, like Amazon App Store and F-Droid, the Google Play Store is till your best choice for valid and malicious software free apps.