We’ve spent the last week or so talking about smartphone security and how the privacy-centric Blackphone can help keep your communications as well as your data private. We’ve looked at all the technical stuff that’s going on to keep you secure, as well as given it our full hands-on review treatment.

But what if you don’t have a Blackphone? If you’re running (virtually) any Android-powered smartphone or tablet, you’re in luck! Here are three Android security tips that will improve your security and privacy right now!

1. Encrypt

Android Security: Encrypt your phone

Not long ago we heard of people buying old smartphones and recovering images that had been taken by their previous owners. While some of these devices may simply not have been wiped (or “factory reset”), most of them had been. The term “wipe” typically refers to a special kind of deletion wherein the space that a file occupies is overwritten by ones, zeros, then random strings – usually three or four times. Doing this essentially “scrubs” the old data off the disc or storage card.

When you simply “delete” something, you’re not actually removing the data, you’re simply removing the pointer to where it was stored. With the right tools (and some time) you can likely recover most of that data. Or someone else can.

Some Android OEMs include a true “wipe” process in their factory reset, but most don’t. The solution is simple: encrypt your device.

Sure, it sounds scary and complicated, but it’s really not! Start out with a full battery and your charger, then navigate to Settings, Security, and Encrypt Phone. Follow the instructions, and after a couple reboots, you’re all set! All your data is now encrypted.

What does that mean? In this case, when you power on your device (which is different from simply turning on the screen) you’ll be asked for the password you set up when encrypting your device. Simply input that password and your device will dynamically decrypt your files and boot up. If you power-off your device (or lose battery power), you’ll have to input your password again. When you factory reset your device, however, whatever data was left on it will be an encrypted jumble of unintelligible bits – unrecoverable to all but the most dedicated sleuths. Put another way, doing this one simple thing would have kept all those “revealing” pics from being recovered and viewed by reporters aching for a girlfriend story.

2. Android Device Manager

Android Security: Android Device Manager

I can’t tell you how many times someone has come up to me and said “Joe! Help! I’ve lost my phone! You can find it, right?!” Well, yeah… but did you make it easy for me?

With most modern versions of Android, you can enable a little gem called Android Device Manager that lets you remotely lock your phone’s screen, change the screen-unlock password, locate the device, and even erase all the data (which, when combined with device encryption mentioned earlier, can keep your information and data private).

Setting this up now takes less than a minute, and it can pay off big-time when you misplace your device! Open Settings, Security, then Device administrators. Make sure Android Device Manager is present and has a check mark next to it. Once that’s done, you can rest a little easier knowing as long as your device has power, you should be able to find it – and wipe it, if need be.

3. Screen Lock

Android Security: screen lock

Last, just like you wouldn’t leave your front door unlocked and open, don’t leave your phone unlocked and open either. Android has made locking your phone very easy. You can usually choose from a PIN, pattern, password, or even face unlocking (which is what I prefer). Some devices even include fingerprint scanners.

Setting one of these up only takes a minute. Head to Settings, Security, and Screen Lock. If you want to setup Face Unlock, make sure you “improve face matching” at least two or three times to help your phone get a good idea of what you look like so it’s more accurate – and faster!

If you’re lucky, setting up a simple screen lock will keep casual browsers and “lookie loos” out of your phone long enough to notice that your device has gone missing, and hopefully locate it using Android Device Manager (from our previous tip).

Why Stop There?

Those three tips alone will protect your not only your privacy, but your investment as well. They’re well worth your time, and you should apply all three right now! But what if you want more?

Lucky for you, we’ve teamed up with GSM Nation and Fight for the Future to award one lucky reader a privacy-centric Blackphone! Let’s face it, when it comes to privacy, it doesn’t get much more secure than Blackphone! Head over to our post to see what you need to do to enter to win!

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