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Mobile Security: Tips for Protecting Data on Smartphones

Mobile Security: Tips for Protecting Data on Smartphones

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Mobile security has been a hot topic recently. September’s celebrity photo hacking via iCloud had many people reflecting on what it is they have on their phones and if they feel safe from hackers. Apple is trying to reassure customers about its commitment to security and privacy after this scandal, and also soothe people’s nerves about being spied on from other sources. In terms of security from government access, last month Apple released a new privacy policy along with a declaration that police can’t get to your password-protected data. This means that essentially anything you put on your phone, including messages and photos, are automatically encrypted when you set up a passcode, regardless of the fingerprint ID setting. Apple says it cannot bypass that passcode, even if law enforcement asks. Apple states:

Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed any government access to our servers. And we never will.”

Android customers can encrypt their data by following these instructions, however an upcoming update will encrypt data automatically since many users do not realize there’s an option for this or don’t bother turning it on.

Apple, Google, Yahoo and other tech companies have been trying to establish themselves as trustworthy to their users following allegations that the National Security Agency has been snooping on emails and other forms of communication in order to find terrorists. Beyond setting up passcodes, some phones have additional tools for hiding or securing sensitive photos and documents stored on the phone, especially if you need to lend or show your phone to someone.

Here’s are some of these options:

1. Apple – iPhones & iPads 

iOS 8 offers an easier way to hide photos from your collection in the Photos app. Simply press down on the photo or the thumbnail of it and tap “Hide. However, note that the photo will still appear in individual albums, including a new one called “Hidden.” You can go there to unhide hidden photos.

This feature is mainly useful when you want to let people glance through your entire collection of photos. This could be in a situation where you want to show your friend pictures from last weekend or something larger scale such as making a presentation. This option allows you to hide private photos as long as you’re in control of the device (i.e. don’t let you friends start looking through the albums section).

2. Samsung – Galaxy Devices 

The Galaxy S5 and Tablet S tablets recently introduced a private mode, which will also be available soon for the Galaxy Note phones. You turn it on in the settings, under “Private Mode” in the Personalization section. This allows you to then go through your phone and mark certain content as private. For example, with your photos you just go to the Gallery app and select the photos or albums you want to keep private. Then hit the menu icon for the option to “Move to Private.” This also works with video, music, audio recordings that you select.

After you’ve marked your files as private, you need to go back to the settings to turn Private Mode off. It’s the opposite of what you might think: Private Mode needs to be off for your content to be secure. Once locked, it is as though the content never existed. No one will know what’s inside the vault, or whether there’s even anything inside. To unlock the vault, you need your passcode or fingerprint ID.

Another option for Android users is to download Androcognito, an app that protects your private data behind three layers of encryption.

3. LG G3

LG’s flagship phone has a guest mode, allowing you to set a a separate unlock code for the guest, so that you don’t need to disclose yours. Find “Guest mode” in settings under the General tab. From there, you can determine which apps your guest can access and which you can block, like texts and email. Log in as a guest – with the alternative code – to verify what’s available after you pick the apps to allow.

You’re also set set up a “Guest album” in the Gallery app where guests can take photos and have them only appear there, without having access to any of your other photos. However, if access is enabled for the Photos app, your guest will see everything. Beyond the guest mode, the G3 lets you lock certain images in the Gallery app during normal use, similar to what the Galaxy devices offer.


While these tips are certainly helpful to protect your privacy on your actual device, the privacy of storage services such as Dropbox or iCloud also needs to be considered. Create a strong password for these accounts and change it frequently (every few months is a good rule of thumb) and also enable a second layer of protection if it’s available to you. Hackers’ intelligence is increasing alongside the security of our smartphones; be sure you’re taking the proper precautions to fully protect yourself.