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Day 6

Set a lock screen password

Theory

Setting up mobile device passwords is the most important security measure a smartphone user can take. Most folks authenticate their phones for quick access to email, messages, social media, and bank accounts; if a phone is lost or stolen, there’s more at stake than the device itself.

With access to your phone and email, a hacker can impersonate you and take over your accounts. If that sounds bad (it is), you probably want to enable remote tracking and wiping of your devices as well.

Most phones use a four-digit passcode, which gives us:

10 digits × 10 digits × 10 digits × 10 digits

= 10000 possibilities.

That seems like a lot, but remember: people are bad at coming up with passwords. PINs like 1234 and 0000 are extremely common, so much so that:

Statistically, one third of all codes can be guessed by trying just 61 distinct combinations!

Homework

Set a passcode lock on your phone. If you’ve already got one but your PIN has personal meaning, read on.

Select your PIN

My advice: pick a high number for the first digit. Then, check the time; the last digit on the minutes hand is your second digit. The last digit on the seconds hand is your third digit. Pick a card for your fourth digit (with "10" mapping to “0” and face cards ignored).

Or do something else! Basically, avoid encoding:

  • your birthday
  • a catchy pattern
  • a pet’s name

or other “interesting” numbers in your PIN. Anything with personal meaning to you will be easy to guess.

If your phone lets you increase the number of digits in your passcode (or even better, a passphrase of words), I recommend doing so. But even four digits is better than none.

Set your PIN

If you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod, follow the official instructions from Apple.

If you have an Android device, these instructions for the Google Nexus might help. Of the options listed, “Password” is your best bet[1].

If you’ve got another type of device, password options can usually be found under the Settings application.


  1. Forcing someone to give up a password is considered a violation of the fifth amendment. A fingerprint lock is less secure; with a warrant, cops can still search your phone. ↩︎