It may feel frustrating to have to enter your password every time you sit down at your laptop, or to have to scan your fingerprint every time you want to get into your phone, but these security measures are the most important ones on your device.
Lock screen security is what stands between strangers, thieves, snooping colleagues, overcurious housemates, and all other unauthorized visitors and your private data. Think about it: Once your phone is unlocked, access to your social media, your emails, your documents, your photos, and much more is just a few taps away.
Thankfully, the makers of the major operating systems have been working hard to strike the right balance between protection and convenience when it comes to lock screens. Here's how to stay safe without making logging in an overly onerous task.
Different Android devices come with different ways of unlocking, including face scanning and fingerprint reading, so the options you see will vary depending on the make and model of your phone. What's more, each Android vendor puts out a slightly different spin on the software that comes installed on their handsets.
When it comes to the latest version of Android that Google puts out on its Pixel phones, you can find the lock screen options by opening up the main Settings pane and choosing Security and then Screen lock—the various options available on your phone will then be displayed. Most phones use a PIN as the default or the fallback option, but it's up to you.
Once a screen lock has been configured, you're able to customize it by tapping the cog icon next to Screen lock on the Security screen. Here you can choose how long your phone waits before it automatically locks itself: A shorter time is better, because there's less chance of someone else being able to pick up your phone and access the data on it before the screen lock is enabled.
From the Security menu, pick Advanced settings and then Smart Lock to get a bit more creative with your lock screen setup. Here you can set your phone to automatically unlock itself when it's connected to a trusted device (like your car's Bluetooth stereo) or when it's in a trusted place (like your home—where there's less of a likelihood of a stranger swiping your handset and trying to gain access to it).
As on Android, your options on iOS will vary: Some iPhones come with Touch ID, for example, and some don't. We'll give you the instructions for the latest iOS software running on the latest iPhones with Face ID, but the process is very similar for iPhones with Touch ID instead (and indeed for iPads).
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From Settings, go to Face ID & Passcode to set up your lock screen options, and there are plenty of them: You can, for example, add another face to the one you've already configured (Set Up an Alternative Appearance) or start the face recognition process again (Reset Face ID). You can also choose what else Face ID is used to authorize, from in-app payments to password auto-fills.
Further down the screen you can Change Passcode to configure the PIN that's used as a backup to Face ID, and opt to use your Apple Watch (if you have one) as an alternative to Face ID—turn the Apple Watch toggle switch to on, then follow the instructions on screen. Keep scrolling and you're also able to choose what is shown on the lock screen for anyone to see, including Notifications and the Control Center.
To configure how long your iPhone waits in an inactive state before locking the screen, go to Display & Brightness from Settings, then tap Auto-Lock—you can turn auto-lock off entirely if you want to take the risk, but we'd still recommend locking your phone manually when you're not using it with the side (power) button.
There's a brand new unlock method for Windows 11 that uses the strength of the Bluetooth signal from your smartphone to work out when you've left your computer unattended. First you need to pair your smartphone with your laptop or desktop, which can be done by opening up Settings and choosing Bluetooth & devices and Add device (follow the instructions on screen to complete the pairing).
With that done, head to Accounts, Sign-in options, and Dynamic lock: Check the box marked Allow Windows to lock your device automatically when you're away. Windows should automatically identify your phone as the Bluetooth connection to use—you just need to remember to take your handset along with you when you step away from your desk in the future.
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The same Sign-in options page covers the plethora of options now available for verifying your identity when you reach the Windows lock screen. As well as the traditional PIN and password options, you might also see biometric security measures like fingerprint recognition and facial recognition, if your hardware supports them. Click on any of these sign-in options to configure them.
To set how long your PC is idle for before the screen turns off (which automatically enables the lock screen when the screen comes back on), you need to open Settings and choose System, Power & battery, and then Screen and sleep: If you're working on a laptop, there will be separate timeout settings for when your device is connected to the mains and when your device is running on battery power.
To find your sign-in settings on macOS, open the Apple menu then click System Preferences and Users & Groups. Here you'll see the authorized users that have been set up on your Mac, so select your name from the list on the left and then click on the Login Options that's underneath (you may have to enter your password to make changes).
Typically you'll need to enter the password you chose when you set up the user account to access your Mac, but there is an automatic login option that skips this—something we wouldn't recommend. If your Mac has a Touch ID sensor on the keyboard, you can select Touch ID from System Preferences to gain access this way instead.
If you own an Apple Watch, you can use this to prove you are who you say you are, saving yourself the trouble of typing in a password (or pressing down your fingerprint) every time you want to get past the lock screen: It communicates wireless with your Mac to validate your identity. To set this up, from System Preferences choose Security & Privacy, General, and then check the box marked Allow your Apple Watch to unlock your Mac.
From the same screen you can choose how long your Mac waits after the screen has turned off or the screensaver has been enabled before it locks itself (the shorter the length of time, the better). To choose when the screen dims, pick Battery or Energy Saver, then Battery or Power Adapter from System Preferences; to set a screensaver, choose Desktop & Screen Saver then Screen Saver from System Preferences.
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