How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Android Security Login

Here’s some friendly advice for those of you about to receive your G1 handsets next week – stay away from the pizza and buffalo wings before locking your handset.  Although there are tons of possible combinations you can use to secure your handset, a simple bit of greasy finger syndrome can ruin everything!

Take this from someone with semi-experience.  A few months back I downloaded a program for my Windows Mobile device called Throttle Lock.  It essentially gives WinMo users the same secure login as the forthcoming Android handsets.  It took me all of ten minutes to realize that at the right lighting or angle, someone could see the exact sequence I used.  If not, then could see it in reverse.  The app was promptly uninstalled, but not because of that.  It was because it would freeze my T-Mobile Wing up and force soft resets.

Every person with a cell phone has noticed at some point or another how easy it is to get sweat or grease on a screen.  Handsets with full size screens are even worse as most of your face and ear could end up touching the screen.

I started wondering what would happen with the Android handsets when they came out.  What’s somewhat kept my fears calmed is perhaps having the ability to unlock my handset using a trackball.  At least on the G1, it seems feasible.  But what about full touch versions?  Are people going to be able to pick up a phone and see the order in which to slide the finger?

Apple users only have one way to unlock their phones, at least out of the box.  Do we hear them complaining?  Here’s a few tips to help keep your Android handset safe from snooping friends and enemies of the state.

  1. Use a Bluetooth handset when talking and keep your mug off the screen.
  2. Get some clear screen covers and wipe off the screen often.
  3. Make sure your password overlaps at least one dot.  It might buy you some added time.
  4. Don’t store anything on your handset you don’t want people seeing at first glance.
  5. Download a different locking program from the Android Market after launch.
  6. Stop being so secretive

I love the way the login is set up.  It’s simple, yet unique in its own right.  Would I like to see a variation offered, like maybe a screen with a 4-5 digit combo?  Of course. However, we don’t need to raise the threat level to orange just yet.

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  1. I think this will behave differently with the capacitive touchscreen–it requires much less pressure to create a pattern.

  2. I used to install residential alarms and I cant tell you how many times I could guess the persons alarm code just by looking at the keypad to see which buttons were dirty and which were clean.

  3. Since when is the screen lock a security feature? I’ve always viewed it as a way to stop accidental input while the thing was in someone’s pocket or purse.

    But lets say you were using it as a form of protection. In order to guess the lock shape from grease you would have to unlock a freshly cleaned screen, then not touch anything else, THEN have your phone stolen.

    Its a touch screen phone, think of how many swipe marks will be all over the thing in about 5 minutes of use. (flicking the main screen left and right, pulling down the notification thing, scrolling, etc etc) Guessing a security keypad is easy because it isn’t used for anything else. The screen on a G1 will be poked every 2 seconds, for everything.

  4. Exactly Ron. It’s a touchscreen phone!

    You’ll be swiping left and right, scrolling up’n down, dragging the magnifying glass all over the browser on the phone in just a minute’s use.

  5. “Download a different locking program from the Android Market after launch.”

    Unfortunately I don’t think that will be possible in the 1.0 due to the way the lock screen is built. The motto “all applications are equal” is not true in this case and it cannot be replaced without recompiling the whole system and creating a new image (nothing the average user is going to do) :(

    I hope that will change in future versions and you will be able to install applications like BioWallet to lock down the phone and all your sensitive information.

    Disclaimer: I’m a member of the BioWallet Team ;)


    Jose Luis.

  6. I think the title of this article is a reference to Dr. Strangelove. I don’t think Scott was worried himself. Still though – it’s much worry over nothing really.

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