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Keep law enforcement out of your Android device «Android :: Gadget Hacks

With protests popping up all over America, you may get your first interaction with law enforcement. Many protesters will have their phones on hand to film the action, which unfortunately could prompt a police officer to request the device and all self-incriminating data. Before this happens, you should know that there are tools available to protect your data in such situations.

These tips usually involve tightening settings within Android, but there is also a third-party app that can help. Once you implement these tips, you can derail the law enforcement efforts by keeping your phone locked even if it is in their possession. But we are not lawyers, so use these tips at your discretion, as every circumstance is different.

Tip 1
: Disable Biometrics in Seconds

While biometrics offer a good balance between security and convenience, they can be used against you when dealing with law enforcement. While a recent ruling in the District Court for the Northern District of California found that the police who forced you to unlock your phone with your fingerprint were a violation of the fourth and fifth changes, it remains to be seen whether these will stand in the future court hearing.

However, the refusal to provide your access code has been upheld in both a Pennsylvania and Colorado judgment. While a Florida judge has challenged the protection of the Fifth Amendment, it is still the safer option.

In Android 9 Pie, Google introduced a feature known as lock mode. It is not enabled by default, so you need to enable it first. Once activated, you can quickly lock your phone and disable biometrics with one button, with your PIN, pattern or password being the only way to unlock your phone. Best of all, it only turns your fingerprint scanner (or secure face recognition) off once, so you don't have to remember to turn the feature off after your encounter.

Tip 2: Use a strong password

Piggyback on Tip 1, the most secure authentication method your phone offers is the alphanumeric password With a secure password (which can be up to 16 characters long), you can be sure that your phone will not be unlocked without your permission, because there are simply too many possible combinations for law enforcement officers to guess.

A password 8 character characters without consecutive letters (or using common words or names) would take a computer more than five months to crack. Increase this to 16 characters and it will take several millennia . Until Google implements the ability to require both the password and biometrics to unlock, this is the safest option for anyone (including law enforcement) to keep your phone. And with Lockdown mode, you hardly ever have to use it.

Tip 3: Disable Smart Lock

If you use Android's Smart Lock feature to more easily unlock your device, know that it is a double-edged sword: it also makes it easier for law enforcement officers to get into your phone.

Specifically, the "Body Detection" setting, which keeps your phone unlocked when the motion sensors detect that it has been in constant motion (in a manner consistent with a walking person) since the last time it was unlocked with a PIN, cartridge or password. The point is that if you are stopped while the phone is in this unlocked state, the officer can take possession of your phone and keep the body detection active by placing it on his or her person. They can then unlock your phone with a simple swipe.

Image by Dallas Thomas / Gadget Hacks

There is also a small risk with Smart Lock Places' "Trusted" setting. This will keep your phone unlocked in specific locations like your home. If you're being held in one of these locations, agents can unlock your phone without your PIN, pattern, or password.

To disable all Smart Lock options, go to Settings -> Security -> Smart Lock, then choose each item individually and disable the toggle switch on the next screen. Under Trusted Places, tap anywhere and then choose "Delete".

Tip 4: Hide Notifications

While the lock screen prevents law enforcement officers from accessing the contents of your phone, it may be a source of information even without access to the rest of the phone. That's because our notifications (especially messages) can be read by default – sometimes in their entirety – on the lock screen.

To change this behavior, open Settings and select "Security and Location" (this may have a different name) on your phone, then find an option with "Security" in the name). Choose "Lock Screen Preferences" and "On Lock Screen". In the popup, choose "Hide sensitive content" or "Do not show notifications at all".

If your phone is equipped with a notification LED, we recommend that you choose the latter as it offers the best protection. You know new notifications thanks to the flashing LED, but they never show up on your lock screen. But without a notification LED, if your phone is silent, you wouldn't know you received a new message until the next time you unlock it. In this case, we recommend choosing "Hide sensitive content".

If your phone is on Android 9 or later, you can use the Lock Mode option to temporarily disable all lock screen notifications in case you are being sidelined or held by law enforcement officers. Once lock mode is activated, no notifications will appear on your lock screen until you next unlock the device with your pattern, PIN or password.

Tip 5: Keep your boot loader locked

Android has a system of checks and balances to ensure that every part of the operating system is still protected when it boots up. But it is also an open operating system and Google has gone to great lengths to maintain this aspect.

To keep the door open for users who want to root while strengthening boot protection at the same time, Google came up with a system that locks the boot chain by default, but you can use a two-part setting to unlock it if you want. One of these settings is in the Android operating system, the other is out there in a pre-boot menu called the boot loader.

The setting in Android is called OEM Unlocking. The idea here is that you can only enable this option if you have entered your pattern, PIN or password to get into the Android operating system. Therefore, if it is enabled, it is enabled by you.

Once that setting is enabled from Android, you can boot into bootloader mode and send Fastboot commands to unlock the bootloader. It allows you to install unofficial software on the device such as custom recovery or custom ROM. These, in turn, can help gain root access to the phone.

To make it even more secure, the actual action of unlocking your bootloader automatically erases all data on the device.

But here's the thing: If your boot loader is currently unlocked, the police can easily install unofficial firmware on the device to bypass your lock screen and access your data.

Image by Jon Knight / Gadget Hacks

The OEM Unlocking setting is not really worth worrying about as it only unlocks the boot loader . If officers unlocked your boot loader all data stored on your device would be automatically deleted.

But if you unlocked your bootloader after that enabled OEM unlocking, for example if you rooted your phone with Magisk – it's good practice to go back and the bootloader again lock it when you are done. In addition, if you have installed a custom recovery such as TWRP, you must password protect the recovery menu.

Tip 6: Use Cerberus

Cerberus is a third-party app that includes all functions of Google's Find My Device and much more. Although it has a monthly subscription, it is a much more complete security software than Find My Device. Due to Google's policy change, Cerberus decided to leave the Play Store instead of disabling one of its main features. Therefore, you need to download the APK from the Cerberus website and load it to your device.

When the police take your phone, Cerberus allows you to send text messages or use a browser to send commands to your phone. One command allows you to lock your phone with a code of your choice that is separate from your lock screen code.

And if you're concerned, law enforcement can bypass your lock screen, you can wipe your phone remotely with SMS commands (or through a browser) if you don't expect to get your phone back. This way, even if they bypass the other methods, there's nothing on the phone they can pick up.

And if you're concerned about your lock screen passcode or gesture, delete your backups. For devices with Android 9 Pie or higher, the encryption is based on this lock screen verification, which means that if they can crack your phone, they can access your backups. For older versions of Android, the backups are not encrypted so they can restore your device without any problems. So in both cases it makes more sense to delete the data.

Don't Miss: Keep Law Enforcement Off Your Face ID & Touch ID Devices

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