How to Encrypt Android

by Brandon Ackroyd - , Last Updated on May 23, 2016, How To Guides

For most of us, our smart phone is the key to our lives. We use our phones for banking, messaging, internet surfing, blog posting, fitness, and a whole slew of other things. The upshot of all this is that our phones tend to contain a whole lot of personal information, which is why you might want to consider encrypting your Android smart phone. Or not. We’re here to tell you the pros and cons of encryption, and how to go about it if you decide that encryption is right for you. So let’s get started!

What is Encryption?

We’ll begin with the very basics. When you enable encryption on your phone it allows your Android to “scramble” or encrypt your data. Basically this means that any data stored on your phone is in code, so nobody can read it. You enable encryption, set up a password or passcode, and then every time you switch on your phone you’ll need to enter that password in order to “unencrypt” the data, making it readable to you. Anyone that doesn’t know that password or passcode won’t be able to read any of your data. Simple, right?

Note that the more recent versions of Android (version 5 and above) don’t require that you use a password or passcode, but you really should use one anyway, since encryption is pretty useless without it…

Encryption: The Good and The Bad

The pros of encryption are pretty obvious. Your data, whether that’s your Facebook log in or your online banking information, is all completely private. Should your phone fall into the wrong hands, nobody will be able to get your info. That doesn’t make your phone completely useless to thieves (they can always factory reset it and then use it), but it does mean that all of your sensitive data will be safe (since a factory reset will erase all your data). In order to decrypt that info a thief would need an encryption key, and whilst it is possible (theoretically) to crack phone encryption, in reality nearly no one would, since it would be expensive and time consuming.

All of this sounds very well and good, safe data, no personal info leaking out, but encryption does have its down sides too. There are several less positive effects of encryption that you’ll want to consider before committing to enabling it.

Firstly, encryption will likely slow down performance on your phone at least a little (maybe a lot on older models). This is simply because your phone must encrypt and decrypt info every time you need it, which takes up a little of that processing power. The average user probably won’t notice this too much, and on upper end more powerful phones it’s unlikely to be noticeable.

Second, encryption is only one way. What does that mean? Basically, it means that if you forget your password or passcode there’s nothing you can do. In order to use your phone again you’ll need to factory reset it, and in the process of doing so will lose all your personal data. If you’re the kind of person that regularly forgets passwords, then encryption probably isn’t going to be for you.

Finally, and this only effects a small percentage of users, if your Android is rooted you will need to unroot it in order to encrypt it (though you can root it again after).

Before You Encrypt

If you’ve considered all the pros and cons and think that encryption really is for you there are still a couple of things that you need to know before starting the process. First up, encryption for the first time may take an hour or even longer, depending on how much info is on your phone, and during this time you won’t be able to use your mobile. So you’ll need to set aside a good chunk of time. Secondly, you’ll need to ensure that you have at least 80% battery power (since Android won’t even begin the encryption process until you do). And lastly, you’ll need to leave your phone plugged in during the whole process (so you’ll need to be close to a socket). Breaking any of these rules or interfering with your phone during encryption will almost certainly mean that you lose all your data. Alright, ready? Then let’s get on with it.

Encrypting Your Android

You’re going to need to go into your phone’s settings menu, and choose the “security” option. You may find that encryption is already enabled (occasionally on high end phones it’s enabled out of the box), in which case you have nothing to do. If you’re not already encrypted then hit the option that says something like “encrypt phone.” By default Android encrypts only what’s actually in the phone’s memory. Some mobiles will let you also encrypt your SD card (if you have one). It’s up to you if you want to check this option, depending on how much info you have stored on your SD card.

You will now get a warning screen (which pretty much tells you what we told you above), so hit “encrypt phone” at the bottom of the screen again. And then… another warning screen (Android really don’t want you to make a mistake), so again hit “encrypt phone” at the bottom. Your phone will now switch off, reboot, and begin the encryption process. Easy. All you need to do is wait.

Once the encryption process is finished, enter your password, code or pattern, and you should be good to go. If you don’t have a password/code/pattern enabled then you’ll need to take care of this now. Go back to settings, then security, then screen lock and follow the instructions that you’re given.

And that’s really all there is to it. As long as you don’t factory reset your phone it will remain encrypted and all new data will be automatically encrypted. Congratulations, your data is now safe, all you need to do is make sure you don’t forget that password!