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Security comparisons -
How secure is your phone?

When you come to buy a new phone, you need to have confidence that your personal information is safe and secure. Manufacturers are of course well aware of this, which is why they generally make such a big song and dance about their phones' respective security credentials - but to a casual observer, it can be difficult to differentiate between them and work out just which phone offers the most robust security features. Given the massive variety of phones on the market, you could be forgiven for being a bit overwhelmed by it all. Indeed, two more phones entered the fray recently, with the high-profile launch of Apple's iPhone 5s and 5c. With all that in mind, then, it's worth taking a look at what some of the leading handsets have to offer as far as security is concerned.


iPhone 5s and 5c

Before we do anything else, though, perhaps now would be good time to look more closely at the iPhone 5s and 5c to see just what Apple is trying to tempt us with. The iPhone 5s, as the New York Times reports, is Apple's new flagship smartphone handset and boasts a range of new and improved features. As Apple's fan base isn't known for its self-restraint, there's a lot riding on this device - Apple followers have been largely starved of major new product releases over the last couple of years. So what's so special about the iPhone 5s, and does it stand out from the pack?


iPhone 5s


As far as pricing is concerned, the iPhone 5s will start at $649 for a handset offering 16GB of storage, with the most expensive device offering 64GB of storage for $849. This represents a SIM free price, making the iPhone 5s more expensive than comparable handsets from competitors such as Samsung, HTC and Sony. Perhaps the most noteworthy improvement that the iPhone 5s has to offer is its enhanced camera, which features a larger image sensor. This should provide better image quality even in relatively dark conditions.


Another interesting feature of the iPhone 5s - and it's one that has attracted a lot of media attention - is TouchID. This allows users to unlock the handset simply by swiping their finger over the home button, meaning that there's no need for any passwords or PINs. Touch ID can also be used to complete purchases of apps, music or videos through the Apple iTunes store. While up to five fingerprints can be stored to unlock the device, only one can be associated with a user's iTunes account. Furthermore, fingerprint data is only stored on the handset and is not transferred over the internet. Whilst some people think this may be an extremely robust security measure, other people are seeing TouchID as a gimmick that could cause more issues than it resolves.


In appearance, the Apple iPhone 5s is little different to its predecessor, although it does come in gold as well as space-grey and white. The handset also comes equipped with Apple's latest processor, the A7, which is complemented by the M7 co-processor. Apple also says that the iPhone 5s will be capable of providing 10 hours talk time, 10 hours LTE browsing and 250 hours standby, which should mean that it offers a considerably longer battery life than the standard iPhone 5.


iPhone 5c


Although the rumor mill had suggested that the iPhone 5c would be a 'budget' iPhone, The New York Times also notes that its price range - from $549 to $649, again SIM free, - suggests otherwise, though it is still cheaper than the 5s. What differentiates the iPhone 5c from the rest of the series is the fact its rear shell comes in a range of five colors - white, green, yellow, pink and blue. The handset also comes with wallpaper to match the color of the device's shell, as well as a revamped iOS operating system.


Besides that, the device retains many of the same features as its predecessor. It has the same eight-megapixel camera from the previous-generation iPhone 5, although its video chat front camera features enhanced light sensitivity. The iPhone 5c also includes Apple's voice-activated personal assistant, Siri. In addition, the 5c's battery life - 10 hours of talk time, 10 hours of LTE or Wi-Fi browsing and 250 hours of standby time - appears to be longer than that of its predecessor,
the original iPhone 5.


Other phones and their security features

With that out of the way, then, we can now look more closely at what other leading handsets on the smartphone market have to offer as far as security is concerned. Needless to say, we store a lot of personal data on our phones - not just contact details, text messages and photos but also access to a whole host of social media accounts and more besides. This is why it's so important to look into what each phone's security credentials actually are before you commit yourself to buying one; after all, if you sign up for a contract you'll more than likely be lumbered with your chosen phone for an extended period, so you need to make sure it's going to keep your data safe. Let's take a look at what security features some of the most popular phones have to offer.


HTC One X


The HTC One X offers a range of security features. According to Androidadvices.com, setting up a screen lock function is relatively simple. Just go to the Settings menu, then Security, and select the Screen Lock option. You can also specify the amount of time after which the screen lock should come into effect. In addition, you can set up a PIN lock for your SIM card by again going to the Security menu, selecting 'Set up SIM card lock' and then 'Lock SIM card'. However, you need to have the default PIN provided by your network provider in order to complete this process - enter the default PIN and then the new PIN in order to activate. You can then change the PIN again in future if, for whatever reason, you feel the need to do so.


Perhaps the most intriguing security feature that the HTC One X and all new Android devices have to offer, is Face Unlock. As the name might suggest, this allows the user to unlock the handset simply via face recognition. Although this feature is not 100 per cent accurate, it does make it significantly harder for other people to gain access to your data and so offers robust security. You can also encrypt the data stored on your HTC One X. However, it's important to remember that once this encryption is done it can't be undone.


Samsung Galaxy S4


With the Galaxy S4, Samsung has gone out of its way to underline its security credentials. The handset uses the Knox security software, which offers a range of features including a virtual private network (VPN), high-level encryption and the separation of personal and work data. In fact, so strong are the Galaxy S4's security credentials that in May 2013, the handset received the thumbs-up from the Pentagon. The Galaxy S4 is the first Android-powered phone to meet the Pentagon's security requirements, clearing it for use by government employees with access to Department of Defense networks.


According to Cnet, Knox developer Absolute Software claims that by adopting its security package, Samsung's mobile handsets are the first to offer "constant, tamper-proof security connection for tracking, wiping, recovery and IT servicing". Samsung also confirmed in September that it had signed a deal with anti-virus software specialist Lookout to provide software which would scan its mobile and tablet devices for threats. It is expected that Knox will be included with future Samsung Galaxy handsets, but for the time being the Galaxy S4 is the only Samsung handset which offers this security software.


Nokia Lumia/Windows Phone 8


Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 operating system - which powers a number of recent devices, including the Nokia Lumia - is also designed to be ultra-secure. According to Microsoft, the software offers a range of security features. These include secure boot, which only allows verified software components to execute, thereby providing protection against malware. Also, Windows Phone operating system services and applications are code-signed with a Microsoft certificate, which again helps to ensure that only trusted code runs.


Other Windows Phone 8 security features include app sandboxing - which aims to prevent malicious software gaining unauthorized access - and information rights management to protect intellectual property. The operating system and data files can be encrypted with BitLocker, and new files saved to the system are encrypted automatically.


There are also a number of other Windows Phone 8 security features, including the ability to set passwords and PINs. Users can also set a PIN for their mobile wallet, to help prevent unwanted contactless or Windows Store payments. Furthermore, Windows Phone 8 can automatically save phone settings and data - including photos, videos and text messages - to the cloud, so that users have a backup just in case something goes wrong with their handset.


Alternatively, there's the Find My Phone service. Users can call their device, locate it on a map, lock it or delete data stored on it using their browser in the event of loss or theft. Contact information can also be displayed on the lock screen so that the handset can be returned to its rightful owner.


Sony Xperia


In July 2013, Sony rolled out its My Xperia security service for its 2012-13 Xperia smartphone devices following an earlier trial in the Nordic countries. The My Xperia service protects personal data and allows users to locate their handsets should they be stolen or lost. The service includes a number of remote functions, including the ability to lock a handset remotely to secure personal data and ping a message containing contact details. Users can also get their handset to sound an alert in order to attract attention, and there's also the 'nuclear option' of erasing both internal and external SD card data.


Once the My Xperia app has been activated through the handset's settings menu, users can log in with their Google credentials to the service's website and gain remote access to their phone. Unlike with many third-party security apps, the My Xperia service is available free of charge to Xperia users.


Blackberry Curve


The Blackberry Curve and other Blackberry smartphones offer a range of security features intended to keep your data under lock and key - metaphorically speaking. Blackberry's Balance system is designed to keep business and personal data separate so that business-related information cannot be accessed by personal apps. According to Blackberry, this allows users to secure their privacy by keeping sensitive work information protected.


There's also Blackberry Protect, designed both to keep information secure and also to help users locate lost Blackberry smartphone handsets. Users can lock lost or stolen Blackberry handsets by logging in to the Blackberry Protect website, and they can also display a message for anyone who may recover the device. Contact details, calendar information, text messages and bookmarks can be backed up wirelessly, while data can also be transferred remotely from old Blackberry smartphones to new ones.


How do operating systems match up?

At this point, it's worth taking a look at how the different mobile operating systems compare to one another in relation to security. Some operating systems suffer more from malware than others, and this is something you really ought to be aware of when you come to choose which smartphone you're going to buy. There is some research which can help us in this particular area, however.


Speaking to V3 in 2012, F-Secure security chief Mikko Hypponen revealed that while his team was yet to encounter malware targeting Windows Phone handsets, the picture was considerably different for other mobile platforms. He noted that Android, in particular, had been inundated with malware - with a ten-fold increase in malicious files reported from the first quarter of 2012 to the third quarter of the same year. He cited Windows Phone's relatively restrictive development criteria as a key security advantage over the more open Android.


These findings are backed up by a report from networking company Jupiter, published in 2013. This research revealed there had been an increase in mobile malware of more than 600 per cent in 2012, with a total of 276,259 malware apps discovered - up from 11,000 in 2010 and 28,500 in 2011. Around 73 per cent of this malware came in the form of either FakeInstallers or SMS Trojans, designed to exploit security weaknesses in mobile payment systems. At a time when mobile payment is growing exponentially, this is likely to cause particular concern among users.


What's more, the study found that Android accounted for 92 per cent of mobile malware, and one of the problems here is that there are numerous versions of the Android operating system in use - and there is evidence to suggest that users are sometimes slow to move across to updated versions of the OS which have had certain security flaws ironed out, which could leave many of them at risk in the meantime.


By contrast, however, the Juniper research found that Apple's iOS was relatively free of malware. That's not to say that it's completely hacker-proof - indeed, Juniper pointed out that "theoretical exploits for iOS have been demonstrated" - but this study does suggest that malware developers are perhaps more likely to target Android than Apple's rival operating system. This is of course partly because Android is where the users are, with data from IDC revealing that Android-based devices accounted for 79 per cent of all smartphone shipments during Q2 2013.


Useful security tools for your smartphone

There are also a number of other third-party apps you can use to help protect any personal data which is stored on your smartphone. Some of them are free of charge, others require a one-off fee and others will require you to take out a rolling subscription - so this is something you'll really need to look into before you go ahead and download any of them.


Lookout Mobile Security is available free of charge and offers protection for your mobile handset from potential security threats such as unsecured Wi-Fi networks. You can also use the app to schedule regular data backups to safeguard against loss, as well as to restore your device following a crash or loss of data. Lookout can also help you locate your mobile if, for whatever reason, you need to track it down.


Kaspersky Mobile Security also includes an extensive range of security features for your smartphone handset, including anti-virus, anti-spam, privacy protection, parental controls and firewall protection. It also has the ability to wipe your device's data even if the SIM card has been replaced, so you can completely hide incoming calls and text messages away from prying eyes.


Not to be outdone, Norton also offers its own mobile security software. Norton Mobile Security is a multi-platform security application that can protect both Android and iOS devices. Plug-ins including the Mobile Utilities and Task Killer are also available for free. Norton's mobile security software protects you when you're surfing the mobile web, and it will seek to identify and eliminate any threats.


There are of course many other security tools which could help to keep your mobile data secure, so it's worth finding out for yourself just what they can do to keep your information protected - but these particular tools might be good places to start.