If you think about it, our smartphones hold so much information about us. It knows who your contacts and friends are, it takes snapshots of our lives through photos and videos, it knows where you've been and where you're headed, your browsing habits, your financial transactions, and your shopping habits; it knows virtually everything about you!
But how secure is your smartphone against would-be snoopers and hackers? I hope you're using some kind of security system on your gadget to protect your privacy.
Surprisingly, over one-third of smartphone users don't even bother to use even the simplest 4-digit passcode to secure their gadgets. Now that's one security lapse that you shouldn't ever do.
Currently, there are a number of ways to lock and unlock our phones - face scans, thumbprints, irises, passcodes, patterns, and more. Which ones are more secure than the others? And which one should you use? Read on and let's tackle each one.
Passcodes are the most common security smartphone methods around. They range from the standard 4-digit numerical code to complex multi-character passwords. It's always a choice between convenience and security, really.
You can program a simple 4-digit PIN, which is easier to hack than, say, a 37-character alphanumeric password, but you can unlock your phone quicker with it. The trick with passcodes is to make them a bit longer so they can thwart would-be snoops - but is also easy for you to remember.
Many iOS users aren't aware that they can create a long numeric PIN. When you're presented with the alphabet keyboard to make the password, switch to the numeric keyboard and enter your code.
Even a 5- or 6-digit PIN is exponentially safer than a 4-digit code - as long as it's not 123456. From then on, the Lock Screen will show you the numeric keypad when it asks for your passcode. For ultimate safety, I recommend a password that's a combination of letters, numbers and symbols. Aim for at least eight characters.
Keep in mind that even with the newer biometric systems like fingerprint scanners, facial recognition and iris scanners, your smartphone's passcode is still your final line of defense, so make it as strong as possible without getting too cumbersome.
If you are an Android phone owner, you might be using the Pattern Lock system instead of a PIN code or password to secure it. It's the popular system where you draw a pre-selected pattern on a grid of dots to unlock your phone. The reason this system is popular is due to its convenience and ease of use. It's simply a quicker way to unlock your phone.
However, studies have shown that pattern unlocking is very insecure and you should stay away from using it. Two out of three observers from six feet or less away can recreate the pattern after only seeing it once. That number jumps to an 80 percent success rate after seeing the pattern entered twice.
If you happen to love the Android pattern lock system, there is one way to make it a little more protected. You must turn off the "feedback" lines that show your finger's path as you enter the pattern.
Here are the steps to turn off feedback lines on Android: Go to Settings >> Lock screen and security >> Secure lock settings >> turn off the Make pattern visible option.
You can also increase your pattern nodes to eight or nine nodes. A hacker or snoop trying for a quick score won't bother attempting patterns with that many nodes when most people only use four or five.
Since the introduction of Apple's Touch ID, fingerprint scanners are considered as more secure than passcodes. Apple claims that there's only a one in 50,000 chance that someone else's fingerprint can fool Touch ID.
The security of fingerprint biometric systems is critical since they're currently being used for unlocking phones, app authentications and for making payments.
Although security researchers have managed to lift someone's fingerprint and produce latex copies to fool Touch ID, it's an extremely technical process that the average user shouldn't worry about.
With that said, fingerprint scanners are still better security systems than passcodes or pattern unlocks.
Facial recognition is now a common feature in most smartphones. This allows the user to unlock the phone by merely looking at it. The method is designed to be faster than fingerprint or iris unlocking without skimping on security.
Unfortunately, it's easy to bypass the 2-D version of this biometric security feature. In fact, this weakness has been tested and proven with smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S8. All any would-be hacker really needs to fool 2-D facial unlocking systems is a picture of the phone's owner.
So if your phone has 2-D facial recognition as an unlock option, please don't use it and rely on fingerprint scanning or even passcodes or eight-node pattern unlocks instead.
Which brings us to the more secure version of facial recognition: 3-D facial scanning such as Apple's Face ID.
Apple's Face ID is the next level of facial recognition technology. It's a more elaborate system and unlike Samsung's system, Face ID senses depth and it tracks faces in 3-D.
Crammed within the small upper notch of the iPhone X's display are multiple new sensors - an infrared camera, a dot projector and a flood illuminator used for facial depth scanning.
These sensors work together to flood your face with 30,000 invisible dots that track your face in 3-D then create a pattern that's stored securely on the iPhone. Each time you look at the phone, the system then compares the facial pattern to match what it sees.
Apple said that the odds of someone duping Face ID are one in a million, vastly superior to the one in 50,000 odds of TouchID. Face ID is also smart enough to adapt to the changes users undergo on a daily basis. It can still track your face through hairstyle changes, beard growth or even with accessories like hats and scarves.
Speaking of the Samsung's Galaxy phones, it is recommended that S8 users rely on the iris scanner for phone security instead. Samsung said that the iris scanner is secure as ever, more secure than fingerprint scanning or 2-D facial recognition.
That's because patterns in your irises are unique to you and are virtually impossible to replicate, meaning iris authentication is one of the safest ways to keep your phone locked.
The future of phone unlocking
Beyond the current biometric security systems in use today, we might see more unique identifiers like cardiac scans based on sensors that detect individual heart rates, heart shapes and heart motions.
Based on early prototypes of this technology, cardiac biometric systems can be used for "continuous authentication" that logs in users automatically to their devices.
Has iPhone X’s Face ID been hacked? This company says so
Is Face ID still as secure as Apple claims it to be? One company said it has already hacked it. Click here to read more about this new scheme to fool the iPhone X's facial recognition system.