With the recent debate rising between the law enforcements agencies and the mobile tech giants in the US concerning encryption of smartphones, the issue has been brought to limelight once again. These days ensuring that all your personal data is kept secure is pretty big deal. Luckily Android has paid attention to this fact and offers efficient tools for your phone’s security right out of the box. Here is a guide to get you started on how you can encrypt your Android tablets as well as smartphones.
What is Device Encryption and Why is it important?
Before you can proceed to encrypt your Android device, it is vital you understand what encryption actually is and some of its pros and cons.
Device encryption is an overall solution for the protection of all your data and personal information from curious eyes, especially when data is sent over the internet. Device encryption ensures that all the data on your phone is converted into a form that can only be read with the application of the right credentials. This is usually more than a typical pin or password that locks a screen, which can still allow data to be accessed with specialized knowledge and by use of bootloaders, recoveries, as well as the Android Debug Bridge.
Once the encryption is complete, all the data stored on your device including apps, photos, music and account details can only be read once a unique key is used to unjumble the information. There is quite a bit that goes on behind the screen, where the set password is converted into a unique key usually saved in a “Trusted Execution Environment” to keep it protected from software attacks. The purpose of the key is to encrypt and decrypt files.
Android makes this easy on users, where you just have to type in your passcode every time your unlock or boot up your device for all your files to be accessible. In simple terms, in case your device falls into the wrong hands, they won’t be able to make any sense of the data stored on phone if they don’t know your passcode.
It is important to remember the following before you can proceed. First of all, launching of encrypted files uses more processing power, which may slightly affect your handset’s performance. For older devices, you will notice that the memory reading speeds is a lot slower though the effect on performance in many of the regular functions is hardly noticeable.
Secondly, only a few smartphones give you an option to disable encryption on your device, which means for the rest of the devices its a permanent process. However, if there is no option to decrypt your phone, then you should perform a full factory reset to clear all the data stored on the device.
How to encrypt your device
Android 5.0 or higher
If your Android phone or tablet runs on Android 5.0 Lollipop or a newer version, simply head into its Settings and navigate to the Security section. This might be vary depending on your OEM, but if you have stock Android you can find it by going into Settings >> Personal >> Security.
From there you should spot an option to ‘Encrpt tablet‘ for tablets or ‘Encrypt phone‘, if using a smartphone. You will need to have your phone plugged in to a charger during the whole process. You will then be asked to set a lock screen password, in case you don’t one set up. This will be the password or PIN you will be required to enter every time power on you phone or unlock it, in order to have access to your encrypted data, so ensure you don’t forget it.
Android 4.4 or lower
Before you can begin the encryption process, first setup a lock screen PIN or password. Simply go over to your Settings >> Security >> Screen Lock, where you can either choose to set a pattern, PIN or a password to lock your screen. Note it down, as this will be the same password used for your encryption.
Thereafter, return to your Security section and tap the ‘Encrypt phone’ or ‘Encrypt tablet’ option. Plug your phone into a charger then read through the warning that appears on the screen, confirm your password or PIN then start with the encryption process.
Encryption of your phone can take up to an hour or more, depending on the amount of data stored on your device, as well as how powerful the device is. When the process is complete, enter your PIN to start enjoying your newly encrypted device.
There is also an option to encrypt files stored on your microSD card, under the Security menu. This adds even more security to all your data. This is because, other devices such as computers or other phones, will be unable to access the data on your microSD card without knowing the key first. However files on an encrypted microSD card can still be moved to and from via USB, as long as the encrypted files can be accessed through the phone that originally encrypted it. Moreover, in case your phone is reset prior to the choosing to decrypt your phone, then the encryption key will be lost which will result to inability to access all the secured files on your microSD card.
And you are set!!
Now all the sensitive personal information on your device from bank account details, to personal information will be kept secure even when you lose your device.