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Secure Your Android Kindle or Nook Tablet Now!

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Tablet security is becoming increasingly important. Are you ready? John Traenkenschuh demonstrates how to secure your Nook HD+ or Kindle Fire HD tablet, using a mix of security tools and settings.
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My daughter has an older Kindle. Recently she wanted to use it to buy something, but the tablet needed charging, so instead she used mine. Imagine my surprise later, when ordering some coffee, to find my daughter's purchase data still in my Kindle. Losing control of cached data like that can be just as simple as leaving your tablet behind in a cab.

Android tablets are flooding the market with more memory and new features, with the platform costing less and less. Increasingly, people are using Kindle and Nook tablets for Internet surfing—and, yes, shopping. Android tablets are convenient and offer simpler applications than many laptops, but in most cases the tablets cache more information—losing your tablet is now equivalent to losing your purse or wallet. This article explores settings and extra tools (many of them free) that you can use right now to keep your Kindle or Nook tablet reasonably secure.

Tools for Securing Your Kindle or Nook

Android malware (Trojanized software, viruses/worms, etc.) is growing. Just like a desktop PC, your tablet needs an arsenal of tools—antivirus programs, task killers, and so on—to detect and stop attacks. Following are some basics to help you protect your device.

Antivirus Programs

Run your antivirus software, update it often, and configure it securely. Leading antivirus vendors make free versions of their software for Nook and Kindle tablets. Some programs include helpful features like file or web inspections that can detect Facebook malware.

You need antivirus protection for more than just Android attacks. Because malware's first task is to disable any antivirus software, setting up your antivirus security is very important. Configure your security settings to require entering an administrator's password or PIN in order to change your device's configuration.

Finally, after transferring or downloading media files (books, music, videos, and so forth) from the Internet, scan those files with your antivirus software to detect any problems before you run them.

Task Managers/Task Killers

Use a task manager/task killer program. Like me, you may be frustrated by the "junkware" (preinstalled applications that can't be removed) on your tablet. A task manager/task killer can make sure that ads and spyware are shut down from time to time.

Bits of an application might stay active after you exit the program, draining your tablet's precious memory. Your task manager can free this memory for use in opening new apps. This tool can keep performance crisp, as well as preventing malware or monitoring software from establishing a foothold on your tablet.

Better task managers also can kill selectable processes periodically. Shut down any unwanted processes; then ask yourself—why is your downloaded game reactivating itself all day? You might need to uninstall that game to prevent it from doing harm.

Browsers

Get a secure browser—and use it securely. All browsers cache passwords, with some offering a little more security than others. Google's Chrome and other Chrome-based browsers have come under attack because cached passwords are stored without encryption or a master password. This design allows someone who steals your tablet to read your cached passwords after starting the device. If you're uncomfortable with using the default browser, change your browser.

Using a browser securely is challenging. Even with a master password controlling who sees your cached passwords, tablet thieves can still navigate to sites that use your cached passwords. You may want to rethink your use of cached passwords.

Other tools are also available to help defend your tablet, but antivirus software, task managers/task killers, and secure browsers are the most important. Of course, installing "magic" security tools doesn't solve all risk problems. At some point, Nook and Kindle owners must enable their tablet's security features. Let's look at some of the more useful settings.

Settings for Securing Your Kindle or Nook

The specific settings used for Kindle and Nook can vary a bit. Both Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble tweak the Android interface to add their own wording and locations for these settings. You may need to hunt for the settings in your tablet's configuration panel.

The following checklist displays settings I recommend using, which are discussed in detail after the list. (Note that the numbers in the checklist are merely for use in matching headings in the following discussion; they're not used in the software.) Each item you can check off the list makes your tablet a bit more secure.

Item

Done

Setting

1

 

Don't install applications from unknown sources.

2

 

Don't root your tablet.

3

 

Disable features until needed (Bluetooth, WAP, airplane mode, etc.).

4

 

Erase and deregister device before selling it.

5

 

Location service.

6

 

Debug options.

7

 

Screen timeout.

8

 

Screen lock--set a passcode.

9

 

Certificate management.

10

 

Application data sync to custom clients.

11

 

Auto-sync application data/Back up my data to Google servers.

12

 

Use multiple profiles/parental controls.

13

 

Device Administrators.

1: Don't install applications from unknown sources.

Both tablets allow you to install applications from unknown sources, such as websites. By enabling this feature, you could install software with embedded malware, such as screen-mirroring or remote-control software that allows others to view or control your session activity.

Is Google Play safe? Google Play had a major vulnerability in its code-signing process. Using applications from the Play interface does not guarantee secure code. It provides Google with accountability for the source code, however, allowing Google to remove the applications from the storehouse—and from your tablet, when you agree to the update prompts.

When installing from Google Play, check any application you install for permissions that seem excessive for that application. (Should your game have permissions to view your contact list? No.) Even if free, some applications can cost you your privacy.

2: Don't root your tablet.

Casual checks on the Internet show a lot of tools to "root" your Nook or Kindle. Rooting your tablet gives you absolute control over it. This means any malware you trigger accidentally has full permissions needed to control your tablet, download more malware, and so on. Root your tablet at your own risk.

3: Disable features until needed (Bluetooth, WAP, Airplane mode, etc.).

The Kindle and Nook make network connectivity easy. They can also enable easy connecting to your tablet. Disable network connectivity by enabling Airplane mode—better, by shutting down services whenever they're not needed. Be sure to disable both Bluetooth and wireless. Leaving either one enabled can keep connectivity open.

4: Erase and deregister device before selling it.

High resale values for today's tablets might tempt you to sell your tablet quickly. Before you do, review the setting that will erase your tablet and personal data and restore it to "like new" condition.

Many tablet owners configure dozens of passwords into their browsers. The person who buys your tablet just might find she now has your passwords, ready to make a purchase with your account and credit card number.

You removed the SD data card from your Nook tablet before selling it, right?

5: Location service.

Location services allow applications like Facebook to enter your location into alerts automatically. This feature has many unpredictable consequences. (Dilbert and his co-workers used it to track the location of their Pointy-Haired Boss.) Thieves might use location data in Facebook postings to track how far you are from your home and determine whether they have enough time to rob you.

If you want to disable location services, be sure to disable any other settings that allow location services to use WiFi and cellular networks to determine your location. These features and GPS signals can be used to track you.

6: Debug options.

Most Android tablets have debug options to help developers create applications. The low-level access given by debug options is used often as a start to rooting your tablet. By disabling debug options, you can help complicate remote hacks against your tablet.

7: Screen timeout.

By setting a timeout that automatically blanks your screen and engages passcode protections, you can better ensure that no one misuses your browser and accesses your cached passwords. Most programs set the timeout to engage after a few minutes. If you choose a long timeout, tap your power button as needed to lock the screen manually.

8: Screen lock--set a passcode.

The Kindle and Nook both allow you to set a personal identification number (PIN) that can act as a password to control access. Configure a PIN, make it difficult to guess, and try to use more than a simple four numbers. Guessing a four-digit PIN is easy. After a few wrong guesses, both platforms force a timeout before accepting more guesses. Choose a short or guessable PIN, and your daughter can order from Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble with your account. How many more Justin Bieber posters do you need?

9: Certificate management.

Both the Nook and the Kindle can use digital certificates to take the place of login passwords, as well as passwords used to connect to employer networks, remote virtual private network (VPN) gateways, and so on—though this feature isn't necessarily easy to use. Work with your organization's support staff to store and use these certificates.

10: Application data sync to custom clients.

Many Internet websites have a custom client for Android; examples include Yahoo! Mail and Facebook. These clients can have security vulnerabilities. The same clients can synchronize data to your tablet—a possible problem if your storage is full of songs and books. Additionally, these clients often have "push" notifications that start at inconvenient times. You may not want megabytes of data transferred, potentially over your tethered cell phone that has an expensive data plan.

Is it worthwhile to use custom clients and move data to your tablet? Don't configure the custom client software. Use a browser only if you're concerned.

11: Auto-sync application data/Back up my data to Google servers.

Many applications automatically synchronize data to Internet servers, often without asking for permission. To control data synchronization and avoid unnecessary data charges, disable auto-sync features.

Need to back up data? Attach your tablet to a computer via the USB cable and transfer a copy to your PC. The Nook also features memory card storage.

12: Use multiple profiles/parental controls.

Want to share your Android tablet with your spouse or child? Nook has the ability to create profiles for both adults and children. These profiles can control access to applications, purchases, and so on.

Kindle has the ability to provide a child profile and control a few abilities. Review Kindle FreeTime and parental controls to secure your child's session against expensive mistakes.

Both options provide shared use of the tablet, while preventing other people from seeing and using your data. But these features are not as secure as similar features in Windows and in Mac OS X. Even with Nook's more complete profile management and access control, the Nook owner is free to access all other profiles and their data. Overall, tablets are not designed for highly secure, multiuser configurations.

13: Device Administrators.

Device Administrators is a security feature implemented differently on Android tablets. This is a role and set of permissions that can be granted to organizational software. If you install the company integration application, it can control your tablet and your/their data so that both might be erased by accident. If you believe accessing work systems like email is worth the risk of data loss, then let the software install itself. Keep good backups of your private data, and make sure nothing irreplaceable is stored solely on your tablet. As a better option, why not buy a separate Kindle or Nook for work use?

Summary

We've covered a lot of settings to configure! Not all are required, but this list can help you to choose the security controls that provide a good balance between data value and application convenience. You are now in control of your device's use and its information, because you have the tools and settings needed for your tablet's security plan.

So enjoy your Kindle or Nook tablet, knowing you've taken appropriate security precautions. As a test, leave your PIN-protected tablet on a coffee table and crank up the nanny-cam. Most children are adept at computer access by age eight. How long does it take yours to log in? Will they find you've configured (and explained how to access) their Nook session, or a Kindle session that features parental controls? Or will they open your Kindle Silk browser, access your bookmarks, and begin shopping Amazon.com for a second Justin Bieber hoodie?

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