Securing Your Smartphone: What is Encryption and Do I Need It?

Securing Your Smartphone: What is Encryption and Do I Need It?

Smartphone security is a topic discussed at great length, with many users always looking for a way to boost the privacy and security of their device.

And in order to meet this demand, many phones include an encryption feature that will encrypt all of the data on your phone.  Yes, you can easily encrypt all of your app data, downloads, notes, messages, emails and more at the touch of a few buttons.

But before you run off and start fiddling with the settings of your Android, Windows, Blackberry or Apple device, first you need to know exactly what encryption is and why you might need it.

What is it?

Encrypting information is like password protecting and coding your information at the same time.  Encryption will turn your data into a cypher; the information is scrambled and rendered completely unintelligible without the decryption key.

This concept is explained succinctly by an analogy on Android Authority.  “Take the case of your diary written in English. If you lose the diary, the finder who understands English will be able to unravel the secrets that you keep in between the pages. But, if the entries were written in a secret code or language, no one could easily understand the contents, even if one has physical possession of the pages.”

So if by some chance your phone falls into the wrong hands and somehow your password lock is hacked – all of the information on your phone will be entirely undecipherable without the ‘coding pattern’ or decryption key.  This of course means that when you are booting up your phone, you will need to enter the decryption key to use the phone.

Why Should You Encrypt Your Phone?

Android Encryption

For all the security obsessed users out there, data encryption sounds like an excellent idea but realistically data encryption isn’t for everyone.  Most people have their security needs satisfied by a pattern swipe or password access lock screen, but there are always exceptions.

Data encryption on your phone might not seem entirely necessary for the average user and it’s probably not.  Unless you work for the government or you’re an undercover journalist, it’s highly unlikely there are individuals actively attempting to hack into your phone and retrieve sensitive data.  So encrypting your phone isn’t an essential requirement for the average Android user.

On the other hand, just because data encryption isn’t necessary doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.  While the average user might not have government secrets stored on their phone, they probably do have contact information, addresses, email accounts and maybe even bank and credit card details.  And while the basic thief might do nothing with this personal information, these details in the hands of a more technically sophisticated thief are a recipe for credit card and identity fraud.

So should you encrypt or just rely on your password lock? Before you can reach a decision about which way to go, there are some issues worth considering.

  • Performance–Encrypting your data will most likely make your phone run more slowly.  In most cases this lag will be negligible but it varies from phone to phone.
  • Encryption is one way – Once you’ve encrypted your device there’s only one way to un-encrypt it.  Resetting and restoring your phone to its factory settings.  Unless you feel you can commit to a having to punch in the decryption key every time you boot up your phone, encryption is not for you.
  • The process – the process of encrypting your phone takes at least an hour.  You will not be able to use or disconnect your phone from a power source during this period without facing the potential loss of your data.
  • Pin or Password – In order to encrypt your phone, a lock with a password is a requirement.  Pattern and swipe lock screen will automatically be disabled because these are not as secure.

If you have decided to go ahead with encrypting your device, check out our instructions on how to encrypt your Android device!

If you believe encryption isn’t the right step for you, you can check out our other articles about recent updates to Android security features and our How To article on securing your Apple device.