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Using local security to lock down your mobile device

By Grant Hatchimonji, CSO
November 26, 2013 10:20 AM ET

CSO - Being able to lock your mobile device is important because, in many cases, it's your first line of defense. It may not be the strongest form of security -- in fact, it's arguably the weakest -- but it could prove to be the difference in protecting your organization by keeping the device locked down until mobile device management measures like remote wiping are put into play.

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Here, we cover the various locking and local security options that are available for the different mobile platforms. Choose wisely, though; while each option presents their own unique strengths, so too do they present weaknesses.

PIN/Password Lock (multiple platforms)

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.

It may go without saying, but 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 be enjoying.

Android Facial Recognition

Originally rolled out as a new feature of Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), the platform's face unlock feature works surprisingly well, 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. So 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. As is the case with some of the other security features on this list, the face lock feature falls back on a PIN or other form of locking should the software fail to recognize the face in question.

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Face unlock ranks high on the convenience scale, especially once users build up the device's library of facial shots to the point that it can recognize the user's face under virtually any condition. However, it ranks rather low on the security scale; so low, in fact, that the Android interface actually warns the user when setting up face unlock that it's even less secure than a pattern, PIN, or password lock.

Also -- and the software warns users about this as well -- someone with a similar face can unlock the mobile device. Even worse, someone can simply pull up a picture of your face on another device and point the front-facing camera on it to successfully bypass the face lock. Though it sounds paranoid, the latter technique has been proven to be disconcertingly effective.

Apple iPhone 5S Fingerprint Recognition

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.

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