The best and safest options to lock my phone

Anton P. | September 30, 2021

The decision to lock your phone should come naturally. From personal messages to online banking apps, your mobile phone is a treasure trove of data. Thanks to the evolution of the login screen, you can even pick the preferred way of locking your device.

Want seamless access to your phone? Set up face recognition to scan your facial features and grant access. Want an even more futuristic option? Pick iris scanning, which can recognize your eyes in an instant.

However, which option is the one to serve you unconditionally and in the safest way possible? Let’s take a look at why you should lock your phone screen and the available methods.

Why lock your device?

Your smartphone is an asset, and you should never leave it unattended. Unfortunately, losing something as compact as a phone is relatively easy.

Thus, we go into full panic mode after not finding it in our pockets. A lock screen stands guard against unauthorized access, be it your snoopy friend or a stranger on the street.

However, research suggests that some users tend to keep their smartphones unlocked. The survey by PewResearch in 2016 showed that 28% of smartphone owners had no lock screen.

Considering how easy and convenient this protective measure can be, there is no excuse to overlook it. In 2021, we hope the percentage is much lower, with more people locking their phone screens.

Overall, the lock screen performs two crucial functions:

  • The lock screen prevents you from accidentally sending commands to your phone. Remember pocket dialing? Lock screens have made this amusing accident a rarity. It stops your phone from sending messages, playing music, or going live on Facebook.
  • The lock screen secures your device from unauthorized access. The lock you put on your screen is the first line of defense against nosy people. While pocket dialing can be an embarrassing ordeal, it is not dangerous. Thus, the primary purpose for lock screens is protection, which is essential in today’s data-rich world.

You can customize your lock screen

Locking your phone screen is an essential part of owning a smartphone. Without it, you leave your device at risk of being used by anyone. However, users might feel that a lock screen is restrictive, preventing immediate access to their gadget.

The good news is that the evolution of the lock screen is phenomenal. From simple sliders to fingerprint authentication, you have options that will take seconds. Depending on the model you have, your lock screen can even provide some quick information.

A basic lock screen will have nothing more than time, date, and some notifications you have received. However, others can have playback controls, shortcuts to applications, and weather forecasts. It is also possible to add some personal information in case you lose your smartphone.

Then, if someone finds your lost device, they will be able to contact you and return it. Modern iOS and Android devices should provide enough features for optimization and personalization. Thus, you can lock your phone but keep it practical based on your individual needs.

Current options for locking your device

Patterns and PINs are the traditional options for locking your phone screen. However, with the application of biometrics booming, it is no surprise that smartphones integrate such technologies. Now, you can use your physical features to unlock your phone: no need to remember any tricky combinations.

Let’s review the options you have for locking your device.

PIN code/password

Pros:

  • One of the safest options, especially for those who do not want to use biometrics.
  • Muscle memory will help you type in the PIN code quicker.
  • You can change it anytime.

Cons:

  • It might be difficult to remember long codes.
  • Unsecure if you use a simple combination.
  • Takes time to enter.

The PIN/password is a reliable option for anyone valuing simplicity and traditions. This technique has been around for years, and many people use it to lock their devices.

It requires you to enter a code to unlock your smartphone. It seems simple enough and does not require much setup.

However, there are certain things to note before you choose this as your main screen protection:

  • Do not use four-digit PINs. Remembering four digits is easy. Your thumb will quickly gain muscle memory for an even more effortless unlocking. Sadly, four digits are not enough to keep your phone safe. Thus, your password should be as long as possible. An optimal solution is to make it at least eight characters long.
  • No PINs representing dates or years. You might use your birthdate as your password. However, prying individuals will probably try this combination first. And with social media thriving, even strangers can easily find out this information.
  • Ditch passwords like “1234” or 5678.” Such combinations are a recipe for trouble. They are easy to guess, and you might expect anyone to try “1234” on your smartphone.

Overall, PIN protection is as strong as the combination you choose.

Pattern

Pros:

  • Easy to remember.
  • Grants access quickly.
  • You can change it anytime.

Cons:

  • The most unsafe option.
  • Relatively easy to pick predictable patterns.
  • People can repeat your design after seeing it once or twice.

You also have the option to unlock your phone via a specific pattern. Unfortunately, it is an outdated method, and security experts discourage users from applying it. According to researchers, attackers can break through patterns within the five attempts allowed.

Additionally, people are better at remembering graphic patterns than numbers. As a result, individuals can quickly crack your pattern after observing you.

Due to these reasons, we do not recommend using a pattern to lock your phone. Opt for PINs or biometric-supported options.

Fingerprint

Pros:

  • A quick way to unlock your phone.
  • Quite secure.
  • You can choose which fingerprints to add.

Cons:

  • It can malfunction if you have screen protectors.
  • The scanners might be in an uncomfortable position.
  • It is possible to harvest your fingerprint on a random surface.
  • You need an alternative way of unlocking your phone.

Biometric authentication on smartphones began with fingerprints. By now, all modern devices support this option for locking your phone screen.

In terms of reliability, fingerprints are dependable. You can feel reasonably secure if your fingerprint scanner performs as intended. However, there might be issues with your scanner.

For one, it might not recognize your fingerprint immediately. Thus, you will need to try several times before unlocking your phone. Additionally, if your device has a screen protector, the sensor might fail to detect your fingerprint accurately. If your sensor does not work as intended, it could match any fingerprint as correct.

The best option is to have an alternative method of locking your phone. For instance, a fingerprint and PIN are a typical pair.

Lastly, there is always a possibility that someone will capture your fingerprint from various objects. Luckily, the chances of someone harvesting your fingerprint are low. Nonetheless, it is a threat you should consider.

Face scan

Pros:

  • Insanely fast.
  • Convenient to use, no need to provide anything.
  • Safer than simple PINs and patterns.

Cons:

  • Not the safest option.
  • Possible to trick face scanners with photos.
  • Ability to scan your face when you sleep.
  • False positives can happen.

Facial recognition has become a popular way to lock your device. Most smartphones have integrated scanners, carefully mapping out your face. However, face scans had a tough start, with many experts showcasing their vulnerable nature.

For one, researchers tricked scanners with photos. Thus, it was possible to gain access to devices simply by positioning an image correctly. Furthermore, scanners might have a difficult time distinguishing between twins or people with similar facial features.

Providers would eventually add defense mechanisms against specific threats. For example, some scanners require people to have their eyes open during scans. Such additional requirements stop people from scanning the faces of people asleep. Unfortunately, many researchers regard face scan lock screens as one of the biggest tech mistakes.

The speed of face scans depends on the quality of your camera. However, it might be instant, as soon as you pick up your phone.

Sadly, the vulnerabilities mentioned make face scanning a rather unsafe option. Studies have shown that using fingerprints paired with passwords is a safer practice.

Iris scan

Pros:

  • It grants instant access.
  • One of the most secure forms of biometric ID.
  • No need to remember anything.

Cons:

  • Correctly positioned images of eyes could trick it.
  • It might be damaging to your eyes.
  • It can be challenging to use.
  • Mostly available on certain Samsung smartphones.

Samsung devices offer iris scans to bolster user authentication further. The technology employs an infrared LED to illuminate your eyes, while a narrow focus camera reads your iris patterns. However, the feature is only available on Galaxy Note9, S9, S9+, Note8, S8, and S8+. Newer Samsung models no longer integrate this technology.

Overall, iris scanning is the safest biometric authentication. However, it might be less convenient and require a learning curve. For instance, users must hold their phones correctly, looking straight into the lens. While Samsung adjusted its iris scan for people with glasses and contacts, its functionality might still have issues.

Furthermore, users have reported feeling dizzy or experiencing sharp pain after using iris scanners. Although medical experts found the technology to be safe, eyes are sensitive to infrared radiation. Thus, if iris scans cause you discomfort, choose a different way to lock your phone.

So, which lock screen method wins?

Locking your phone screen is a must, no matter the circumstances. However, the exact method is up to you. Every option has its pros and cons, and you are welcome to choose one that ticks all the boxes. For instance, complex and lengthy passwords will serve you well even without the addition of biometrics.

Nevertheless, if you wish to add it for convenience, we recommend fingerprints. This technology has been around the longest, and it is the safest option right now. Facial and iris scans require some improvements and safeguards to make them your preferred method.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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