Smartphones aren’t the best devices when it comes to privacy. In a sense, you’ve always got a tracking device in your purse or pocket, pinging off every cell tower and locking itself onto GPS satellites. Along with such, you’ve also got a steady data connection. This ensures that advertising IDs, tracking cookies, and usage stats are always following you around when you’re on the internet.
Therefore, there really isn’t a thing as a truly private and perfectly secure smartphone. It’s important to understand this point from the beginning. However, in the modern world, you almost need to have one to get by. As such, the question becomes: Which smartphone gives you the best security and privacy possible?
It’s a tough question to answer, especially considering the vulnerabilities, including Blueborne and KRACK, as well as the FBI trying to find backdoors into almost every smart device. If you’re trying to find the most security-hardened phone, we have come up with a variety of key factors to consider, including:
- Encryption strength
- Hardware-assisted security
- Security patch timeframes
- VPN availability
Key Points to Consider
Before we talk about the phones we recommend, it’s important to know the differentiating factors we used to determine security and privacy. These include:
There are two primary perspectives floating around about using biometric unlocking methods like fingerprint scanners. The first is that if the biometric identifier was stolen, you couldn’t change it like you would a password. Therefore, they’d be permanently compromised. On the flip side, if the security method is easy to use, the user is more likely to do it each time. As such, it’s better for security purposes. So, it’s up to the user to determine whether or not biometrics is a good thing.
There are many ways in which users can unlock their phones to access the data. Of course, biometrics are included, but you can find a variety of others. These include using a PIN, drawing a specific pattern, and traditional alpha-numeric passwords.
Many smartphones use a specific hardware component that allows it to store cryptographic keys. They’re stored on isolated chips or in secret areas of the processor and are used to unlock the device or verify all stages of the boot process.
Almost all smartphones nowadays use two different encryption methods, including FDE (full disk encryption) and FBE (file-based). Typically, file-based encryption is more effective because it allows the individual files to be locked using different keys. Full-disk encryption uses one key that unlocks the entire partition of data.
Other Things to Consider
While those four things mentioned earlier are likely to be the most important when it comes to security, they aren’t the only ones. Consider these, as well:
Restrict Ad Tracking
Any phone that ships with iOS or Android comes with a unique advertising tracking ID already installed to help the marketing partners show you targeted ads. This identification follows you when you use the phone services. For privacy, this can be worrisome.
Sandboxed User Accounts
If privacy is your main concern, it might be helpful to have separate user spaces for your phone. You might have one for work and a different one for personal use. Choosing this route means that data from each account is sandboxed or completely separated from the other.
A virtual private network (VPN) helps you reroute your internet traffic through external servers. Ideally, mobile operating systems will let you encrypt your traffic to increase anonymity. With iPhone, you have a VPN over Wi-Fi only. However, you can reset the device to enable “Supervised Mode,” which allows you to get a VPN through your mobile data connection.
Block Internet Access for Your Apps
You don’t necessarily want your applications to ‘phone home’ or seek out the internet all the time. This pings your location and allows you to be tracked. iOS phones enable you to easily disable mobile data for any app, though you can’t restrict connectivity through Wi-Fi.
Should You Choose Android or Apple?
The long-running debate is whether Apple or Android is the best phone, and which is better for privacy. Some people like one or the other so much that it determines who they will date. While we won’t get into that part of the debate, we do want you to focus on securing your data.
Many people (and researchers) believe that Apple is superior in both privacy and security. Though Android does allow more customization, you sacrifice some privacy to get that. Apple has stated explicitly that it stores most of your data locally on the device and doesn’t send as much of it to servers. Therefore, you have less ad targeting.
Some companies try to tell you that they need all of your data to make the service better, but don’t believe it. Apple has shown that it can collect information about how people use its devices, without compromising an individual’s data.
If you’re worried about a hacker getting your information, you may wonder which brand is less vulnerable to hacking. When it comes to vulnerability to hacking, Apple wins again. iOS has a higher level of scrutiny about which apps are allowed to be sold/installed in the App Store.
Android, on the other hand, is more open-source, so apps can easily get started. Therefore, malicious apps can slip through its security screenings. iPhones have more restrictive app requirements, such as in-depth scanning for all applications.
The Best iPhones to Consider
Those who are focused primarily on security and privacy for your smartphone will find that the best choice is always going to be an iPhone. Regardless of the type, you are sure to keep your data safe from hackers.
We liked the iPhone XS Max for both needs. Its Face ID can’t be fooled as easily as other methods (biometrics). Because Apple manufactured many of the components and developed the OS, it has a good handle on potential security flaws.
Another benefit is iOS 12, which features Password AutoFill. You can log into your account easily and safely, this will allow you to use strong passwords, without having to remember all of them.
While there are a variety of iPhones to consider, it is always a good idea to utilize two-step verification and password managers. Taking your own measures for privacy/security can prevent your device from being hacked as well.