Take Baby Steps Toward Encryption By Securing Your Smartphone

Your data, from the Christmas party photos you took last year to the tax return you filed (thank God for extensions, right?) is in more places than you think, which means securing as much of it as you can is vital. But the idea of encryption can be intimidating to the inexperienced, and often involves discussion of more esoteric topics like PGP, decryption keys and other terms with which you may be unfamiliar. Fortunately, iOS and Android make it easy to secure your data and protect it from malicious hackers and anyone looking to extract personal information.

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Why Encrypt, Anyway?

With data like your credit card information, passwords, embarrassing messages, and even more embarrassing photos, encrypting the data on your device keeps your most personal information secure by essentially scrambling it. Encryption makes it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for hackers to force their way into your device with methods like brute force attacks (attempting every possible password combination).

You can try, but unless you've got a few billion years to spend while you try each password combination, you won't get far.

Your first line of defence from nosy authorities and hackers in some eastern European nation is your password, so try and come up with a good one. The longer the passcode, the stronger the encryption key. Adding a passcode to your smartphone is simple, required for encryption and is your smartphone's first line of defence against intruders.

You'd think it would be common practice to have some passcode protection on their device, but over 25% of smartphone owners are living life on the edge, opting to not use one on their device according to a Pew Research Center study. If you're one of the 25% without a passcode on your device, do me a favour and get yourself together.

Encrypting Your iOS Device

First step: the passcode. You'll have the option to enter either a four-digit or six-digit passcode. You can (and should) use an alphanumeric password if you want to increase the level of security. It's harder to guess an entire phrase compared to a passcode that's probably, let's be honest, your rabbit's birthday. Adding a passcode automatically enables Apple's encryption feature, known as Data Protection.

After you add a passcode, head to the bottom of your Touch ID & Passcode page to look for the phrase "Data protection is enabled." You can further secure your data by turning on iOS' version of a self-destruct mode. Enabling the "Erase Data" feature (on the Touch ID & Passcode page) will automatically wipe your phone after ten failed attempts to access the device's data.

You can encrypt your iOS backups as well, whether you're using iCloud or iTunes. iCloud backups are automatically encrypted, while iTunes requires you to manually enable encryption by checking the "Encrypt iOS backup" on the summary page of your iOS device.

Encrypting Your Android Device

Android device encryption, like iOS encryption, requires you add a passcode to your lock screen. Encrypting your Android device will take some time -- more than an hour in most cases, so grab some lunch. (Google's Pixel phones, as well as smartphones running Android 6.0 or greater, are usually encrypted by default, protecting your emails, texts, contacts, Google Account data, app data, photos, media, and downloads.)

Hit the Settings app on your Android device, select Security, and pick Screen Lock. From there you can add a PIN, alphanumeric passcode. You can also use a pattern, but those can be easily guessed from a few feet away by casual observers (or nerds like me who love staring at other people's phones). Back in the Security section, you can then select "Encrypt Phone" and start the process.

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You should begin encrypting your Android device when it's fully charged, and leave it plugged in to reduce the chance of it dying during the process, which could corrupt your data. Remember to enter your passcode when the phone is done encrypting itself (or whenever it reboots). It might be a pain in the butt to set up, but the security you gain by picking a passcode and twiddling your thumbs for an hour is pretty worth it, as far as I'm concerned.

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Comments

    For Android devices, this certainly applies to new or stock devices. And rather than "usually", for any OEM device sold locally or through an authorised reseller, it will be "always".

    Full disk encryption, enabled by the end of the OOBE, is a CTS requirement unless the OEM has a specific exemption. So it's a sound bet that any device available for sale here will already be compliant.

    The most likely scenario for running unencrypted is on a custom ROM. To get around compatibility limitations, SELinux and encryption protections may be deliberately disabled. In which case, unless the developer specifically endorses otherwise or you're confident recovering potential bricks, it's probably best to leave alone.

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