A note on Android physical security

My Android phone was stolen 2 weeks ago and unfortunatly the thieves were able to see my unlock pattern and thus to unlock it and access my gmail account. I could retrieve my account back thanks to google allowing password reset in case of dubious password change. I also hadn’t double authentication enabled which in such circumstance would have been annoying since I obviously couldn’t look at my phone messages anymore.

This leads me to write this small blog post gathering some advices in how to secure your accounts against physical phone access:

  • Use the fingerprints readers. I know it’s completely unreliable and fails nearly half of the time to detect your fingerprint but at least it’s unlikely to unlock without your own fingers.
  • Get a secondary mail account whose sole purpose is to serve as a password recovery option for your critical web accounts and NEVER access it from your phone or from a device you don’t own.
  • Critical web account obviously includes Samsung and/or Google one: since modern phone can be tracked remotely and includes a kill switch it’s the first thing that will be targeted. At least it happened in my case since I could see password reset notification from my Samsung account when I was back home and could restore my access to GMail.
  • Two-way authentication is becoming increasingly more popular. It’s probably very efficient to prevent security breach when accessing your account from a third party’s device but it’s also very dangerous if one has access to your phone. Having a spare phone line whose sole purpose is to serve as a second way authentication is likely costly; on the other hand, there are some physical alternative (like Yubi keys) which may be used instead. If you don’t accidently loose it.
  • Do regular backup since online service doesn’t always store every data or may need some obscure configuration to work as you may expect. For instance, I lost some of my text messages.
  • Don’t use the paypal mobile app. Never.
  • Don’t store any password PIN or credit card number as a clear text on your phone. If you have issue remembering a password, try to create one as a visual pattern on a keyboard. Muscle memory often works great in such case.
  • Even if unlock pattern are more secure than PIN number since there are at least 9! potential combination instead of 1000 numbers they are also easier to observe and harder to hide ; prefer good old password if possible (for instance as fingerprint fallback option).


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