Tech Tips

How to encrypt your Android phone

The majority of Android phones currently available can be encrypted, but just a small percentage of them use it. By default, most phones don’t have encryption enabled and most users don’t take the time to adjust the default settings of their devices. Encryption isn’t even a requirement for devices running versions of Android before Mashmallow (Android 6.0) and not even all those that run the latest update have to be encrypted. It is estimated that only a small percentage of Android devices are encrypted.

Why is encryption necessary?

Many people believe that it is enough to set a lock screen pattern, a pin or a password in order to encrypt their Android phone. However, the reality is that all it takes is a USB cable to access data from a locked phone that is not encrypted. With encryption, a phones data is protected even before the device boots up. If you are concerned about the privacy and security of your device, it is important to encrypt it. Encryption is particularly important if you have sensitive data on your phone. If your phone is encrypted, its data will remain protected and hackers, thieves and other parties won’t be able to access it. In order to decrypt the phone, the master password is required and without it, even the authorities will struggle to access the contents of your device.

Is your phone ready for encryption?

Once you encrypt your device, you may notice that it doesn’t work as efficiently as it used to. The impact on the device’s performance will depend on the kind of phone that you have. New, advanced models that have a 64-bit ARM processor are less likely to be affected significantly, while older, low price models will probably take a high performance hit. This is something that should be considered before encrypting your Android phone.

In general, when you encrypt a new phone that has a Qualcomm processor (even if it is a cheaper model), there should be no major impact on the performance of the device. However, performance is not the only aspect that you need to keep in mind when it comes to encrypting your Android phone. Here are some factors that determine your experience with encryption.

Although encryption is a measure that enhances the security of the data on your device, it is not infallible. Android phones are more likely to be affected by cold boot attacks. With this type of attack, the phone is placed in a freezer and then, a special software is used to extract information from the RAM. The phone could be eventually decrypted by a highly skilled attacker because the encryption key is kept in its RAM.

In some cases, you may also need to set a password on your lockscreen and won’t be able to use the PIN or a pattern to unlock. This wouldn’t be the most practical option for daily use since you would need to type in an ASCII password to access the phone, which is not as easy as a quick swipe of the finger.

If there is an SD card slot on your phone, you can encrypt the SD card but not the internal memory. You can also do things the other way around. This makes things simple when you need to access unencrypted data on one of them, while sensitive data can be kept on the other, which reduces the impact on the performance.

It may take longer to boot up the device, in some cases even double of the time that it takes to start a phone without encryption. In most cases, you can expect a booting time of about 5 minutes when dealing with an encrypted device.

Once you encrypt an SD card, it is only possible to access it from the phone. You won’t be able to remove it and plug it into your computer. The encryption key is only available on your phone so only there it is possible to access files on the encrypted SD card.

With disk encryption, files are encrypted in your phone’s memory and online traffic is not encrypted at all. This means that there is no protection against online surveillance, hackers or trackers. In order to keep your online traffic private and secure, a VPN is the best option.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the only way to undo the encryption process is by doing a factory reset. This will delete all the files and app on your device. Make sure that you back up all the data if you want to go back to using the phone without encryption.

Encrypting your Android phone

Once you have taken all the factors into consideration and have decided to go ahead with the encryption, you can follow the below steps. They are suitable for devices running Android Marshmallow.

  1. Go to Settings, then Security and select Encrypt Phone. Keep in mind that the battery of the phone must be at 80 percent at least. Make sure that the charging cable must be plugged in.
  2. Tap “Encrypt phone” and type your PIN or enter the swipe pattern. Confirm the encryption.
  3. Don’t interrupt the encryption process once it has started. The phone will restart once the process is completed.
  4. When the phone is ready to boot up, you will be asked to enter your PIN, password or swipe code, then it will be able to start up. Whenever you restart your phone, you will be asked to enter this information.

Encrypting your SD card

There are some Android phones that give users the possibility of encrypting SD cards. The process works in a similar way to the internal storage encryption that we previously described. All you need to do is to go to Settings, then select Security and Encrypt external SD card, It is possible to select if you want to encrypt multimedia files or not.

Before deciding to encrypt your SD card or internal storage, keep in mind that it is easier to decrypt the SD card as it doesn’t require a factory reset. This could be seen as a downside if you consider that this means that the decryption process will be easier for other parties too.

Keep in mind that if you encrypt your SD card and then want to perform a factory reset on the device, you need to decrypt the SD card first. Once you do this, the encryption key will be deleted and so will everything else, which means that you won’t be able to access any files encrypted on the SD card.

Full disk encryption alternative

There is another way to protect the data stored on your device. You can encrypt specific files using an app, which is a practical solution if you are mainly concerned about certain data. You can encrypts files and folders that contain sensitive information without experiencing the performance hit and complications that come with full disk encryption. Apps like Viivo, Boxcryptor, nCrypted Cloud and Sookasa are good options that support Android. They allow you to encrypt individual files and they offer handy features so that you can manage the encrypted data easily.

Legal aspects of encryption

Encrypting your devices adds an extra layer of protection and it is legal in the majority of countries. In Canada and the United States, authorities can only search unencrypted phones without a warrant, but not encrypted phones. People in the US can’t be compelled to provide their passwords, although those in the UK can, under the Key Disclosure Law.

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