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5 ways to lockdown your mobile device

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The personal identification number (or password) is the most tried-and-true and simplest form of local security. Most users opt to protect their device with a PIN that is at least four digits in length, while some go for a longer, more complicated password that combines both letters and numbers.

Those who care enough to make their PINs/passwords long and complex will enjoy a greater level of security here. After all, this option’s greatest weakness stems from user error (or rather, apathy): lock your phone with an easily-guessed password like “1234” and that’s precisely the level of security you’ll enjoy. (Also see: Basic password hygiene)

Originally rolled out as a new feature of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), the platform’s face unlock feature works thanks mostly to intuitive software. As part of the setup process, the user is prompted to snap multiple photos of his or herself using the device’s front-facing camera to make the device as “familiar” as possible with their face. Taking multiple shots from various angles, with or without glasses on, and in different lighting all improve the device’s ability to recognize the user’s face. The face lock feature falls back on a PIN or other form of locking should the software fail to recognize the face. (Also see: 10 tips for Android Security)

The fingerprint scanner is a new feature that was added to Apple’s latest flagship smartphone, the iPhone 5S. With it, iPhone users can now use Touch ID, allowing them to use their fingerprint as a means to unlock their phones instead of the traditional password. That said, entering a password during the setup process is still necessary for “additional security validation,” such as unlocking the phone in the event of multiple failed scans and scanning in new fingerprints. (Also see: 20 security and privacy apps for Android and iPhone)

An alternative to PINs or password locks, the pattern lock on Android allows a user to trace a unique pattern with their finger over a 3 x 3 grid of dots to unlock their phone. The pattern lock is arguably more convenient than PINs or passwords, given that a quick swipe on a particular path is all that’s required – as opposed to hunting and pecking for specific keys on a virtual keyboard – but convenience isn’t the goal when it comes to mobile security.

The picture password, which is a feature exclusive to Windows devices, is one of the more unique methods of locally protecting your mobile device (in this case, your Microsoft Surface). Though it shares some similarities to the ideas presented with the Android pattern lock, picture password adds another layer of individuality: users select a picture of their choice and then draw a unique pattern on the image to serve as their password. The gestures involved in creating the pattern can be circles, straight lines, or taps, and where the user traces them on the image is also relevant.

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