As we transition more of our daily tasks from PCs to smartphones, the damage that can be done if our phones fall into the wrong hands only magnifies. Without a lock screen, anyone who finds your phone can check your email, access all of your social networks, and make purchases on Google Play or any shopping app that may save your credit card. Even if your phone is locked, that may not be enough to keep your data safe. A competent thief could pop out your SD card or plug your phone into their computer to copy data you thought was otherwise secure. The release of version 2.3.4 offers the ability to encrypt your Android phone. While the process may be intimidating, it’s pretty straightforward.
Should You Encrypt?
If you encrypt your Android phone, it provides an extra layer of security by creating an extra loop for intruders to jump through. Encryption can be cracked, but it takes deliberate effort and plenty of time. Unless someone specifically wants your data, they will probably give up and try to steal data from a more easily accessed device.
The average thief probably doesn’t care about your pictures or the contents of your email account. They simply want to wipe your device and sell it to someone else. Encrypting your device does nothing to prevent your data from being erased. If you are more concerned about maintaining access to your data rather than keeping people out, you should consider backing up your device.
An encrypted device suffers a performance hit, and your phone may become noticeably slower as every file has to be decrypted before it can be accessed. Games that already put a strain on your phone may become more than it can handle. Encrypting your phone also disables pattern lock. You will have to rely on either a password or a pin. Depending on your preferences, this may make your phone less convenient to use throughout the day.
Lastly, if you ever decide to change your mind, you will need to restore your device to factory settings to remove the encryption. There is no way to decrypt your device and keep your data at the same time.
Open the Settings app on your Android phone and scroll down until you see “Security.”
Under the Security menu, you will see the option to encrypt your device. Unless your phone is plugged in and its battery is adequately charged, the option will be dimmed.
If your phone has an SD card slot, you may find yourself faced with three options. You can encrypt both your phone and SD card, offering the most security. You can choose to encrypt just your phone, leaving the photos, apps, and other personal data on your SD card easily accessible to anyone who can pop out your card. Conversely, you can encrypt just your SD card, protecting the personal data that is saved on your card without causing your phone to take as much of a performance hit when running apps.
Note that encrypting anything other than just your SD card requires you to use either a password or pin. If you haven’t already set one up, you will be greeted by this error message.
From this point forward, the process will be largely straightforward. You will first be asked to confirm your password or pin. The encryption process can take over an hour, and you cannot use your phone to make calls or do anything else during this time. If you interrupt the process, you may lose some or all of your data. Don’t proceed unless you are sure you have the time.
Your smartphone is now probably more secure than your computer. Combine encryption with the ability to remote wipe your device, and you’ve set up a pretty solid line of defense. Still, there are chinks in any armor, and if someone gets access to your PIN or password, it doesn’t matter if your device is encrypted. Unfortunately, Android uses the same key you lock your phone with to encrypt your device. This limits how long passwords can be, as who wants to type in a 16-digit alphanumeric code just to check email?
This guide also applies to Android tablets, and the same pros and cons apply. If you’re still not sure whether you should encrypt your Android device, let us hear your concerns in the comments below.