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Mobile Security History

The Evolution of Mobile Phone Security

ATurton / 13 August, 2018

While the security of mobile hardware has always been a priority, nowadays it is also what’s saved on the inside that counts.

As technology and needs evolve, so too must the security which protects the valuable contents of our portable telephonic devices. And with the increasing prevalence of physical threats such as moped crime , as well as cyber threats such as malware, security is more important than ever.

Let’s take a look at how far we’ve come in terms of mobile phone security in the 45 years since the first mobile phone-call.


Unlocking Features

When Motorola released the first mobile phone in 1983, there was little need for phone security. The Motorola DynaTAC 8000x did however feature a lock key.

Since then, lock keys have been a common feature to regulate access to the phone, but were originally more concerned with preventing accidental dialling – or pocket dialling. Lock keys have evolved from basic lock/unlock buttons to physical barriers such as flip and slider functions, as well as the swipe touchscreens we know today – which were first invented in 2005 by mobile phone manufacturer Neonode.

And it’s no longer pocket dialling that locking can prevent: pocket texting, accidental banking, unintended streaming and the unwanted sharing of photos or other data can occur if a phone is not locked. Indeed, Hulk actor Mark Ruffalo showed how easily this can happen last year when he accidentally live streamed 15 minutes of the Thor: Ragnarok film premiere.


Voicemail PIN Numbers

Mobile voicemail was introduced during the mid-1980s and allowed users to dial a number to retrieve their messages, including dialling remotely from another phone. While passcodes were included for security, voicemail was immediately vulnerable to hackers because people often didn’t change default security numbers. In 2011, the phone-hacking scandal revealed that British journalists had hacked into the mailboxes of celebrities, royals and even murder victims by guessing the PIN numbers to access sensitive information.


Passcodes and Patterns

As mobile phones could potentially be unlocked by anyone with access to the handset, manufacturers began adding additional unlocking features. Apple initially required 4-digit passcodes similar to a bank PIN number to unlock iPhones, but they increased this to six digits with the 2015 iOS 9 update. There was, however, a loophole, meaning security measures could be cracked using a piece of hardware that generates sequences of numbers to unlock smartphones without needing a PIN – but Apple recently closed this.

Pattern Lock is also a popular method of securing Android devices: to access the device, users must first draw a pattern on an on-screen grid of dots. Research has shown that Pattern Lock can be cracked within five attempts.



Biometric security authenticates and provides access based on an individual’s physical characteristics such as fingerprints, facial recognition, iris recognition and voice.

The Motorola ATRIX was the first smartphone to operate using fingerprint recognition, two years before the iPhone 5S was launched. Nowadays, even budget smartphones tend to have a fingerprint scanner. While the feature has become popular, it does have its flaws and hackers have figured out many ways to trick them, such as using Playdough or even the fingers of cadavers!

Recently, however, researchers have developed a flexible, transparent fingerprint sensor array that can be used to measure pressure and temperature to make sure you’re a real, live human.

The first facial recognition unlocking feature, Face Unlock, was introduced in 2011 Android 4.0 operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich. Apple’s Face ID, which combines an infrared camera, a depth sensor and a dot projector to map out your face and can even be used for banking, wouldn’t gain prominence until six years later.

The latest announcement is a system which can look at a person’s finger moving in the air— such as a signature or drawing a shape — to authenticate their identity.



Today, you don’t just have to worry about thieves physically stealing your phone and making calls or accessing your data. The smartphone is a tiny doorway into our entire lives, which, if not properly secured, can let in a whole host of unwanted visitors.

Once upon a time, malware – or malicious software – was only considered a threat to computers; therefore mobile phones had little, if any, security against viruses. But in 2004 things changed when the first malware targeting mobile phones was discovered. Hackers now design malicious code specifically to target smartphones, including banking malware, ransomware and spyware.

While people are usually quite vigilant about downloading anti-virus software for their laptops or desktop computers, they aren’t always so cautious when it comes to their phones. There are now several anti-virus solutions designed to protect mobile devices from viruses.

Other ways to protect your data are ensuring software is regularly updated to help prevent hacking, as well as encrypting your data so only authorised people can access it.


The Future of Mobile Security

While there are many predictions out there for ‘what comes next’, there seems to be a common notion: multi-factor authentication is expected to play a big role in the future of mobile security, combining biometrics and traditional measures.

It is, however, difficult to predict and prepare for future threats: with the exponential rate of technological advancements and the constant evolution of mobile viruses, a new security threat could emerge tomorrow and present new challenges for the industry to overcome.


Want more? Read our tips on securing your smartphone here.


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