Your no-fuss, fail-safe guide to protecting Android devices

Anndrew Vacca

As Android's popularity continues to climb, it's increasingly joining the workplace. In its early days, Android had little in the way of security, relegating it to personal use. But over the years, Google has upped the ante in terms of Android security, as have third-party vendors.

Today, thanks to the tools baked into Android itself and available from Google Play app store, you can easily protect both your personal and work-related data from common threats.

If your security requirements are very strict, such as due to compliance-oriented regulations, you may need to use a third-party mobile device management tool. But many individuals and businesses can protect themselves with a simpler set of tools and steps.

Focus on these Android risks

To best protect your device and your personal data from threats, you first need to understand what's legitimate and what's hype. For Android, its vulnerability lies in its open nature. In InfoWorld's "A clear-eyed guide to Android's actual security risks," Bob Violino narrowed Android's vulnerabilities down to two core areas of concern.

First is Google Play's "come one, come all" model, allowing just about anyone to upload and distribute their apps. In their native untested state, these apps can contain malware, spyware, and other hijacking protocols that can put your data at risk.

But malware isn't limited to Google Play: Because Android allows for side-loading apps from sources outside Google Play, the risk of compromising your device with a rogue download is compounded.

Hindering Android's ability to fight these risks is Android's second major weakness: its inherent fragmentation. Google and Android OEMs have been criticized -- rightfully so -- for untimely and unreliable updates, which has left Android splintered.

Only 1.4 percent of Android devices are running the latest version (4.4 KitKat), while 21 percent are still running 2010's 2.3 Gingerbread version. Whereas iOS's security holes can be easily patched in one fell swoop by Apple, Android is patched on a version-by-version basis determined separately by each device maker and carrier, which is often a slow and ineffective process.

As a result, someone running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich might face very different risks than someone running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, which makes standardizing your protection very difficult.

Then there's the human factor: Your device is only as safe as your literal grip on it. In the hands of an even moderately knowledgeable thief, your data can be easily accessed, shared, and compromised.

Use Android's built-in security tools

As Android has evolved, so has its ability to ward off these dangers. In its most current version, 4.4 KitKat, Android has several tools you can easily configure to provide your device and data with a powerful first layer of protection.

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