Encrypt your Android smartphone for paranoid-level security

Jack Wallen walks you through the process of encrypting your Android device.


Android encryption

For anyone who needs a mobile device with higher-than-usual security, there are a number of options. One such option is to encrypt your entire device. This means that every time you power your phone on, you'll need either a numeric pin or password to decrypt the device. An encrypted device is far more secure than an unencrypted one. When encrypted, the only way to get into the phone is with the encryption key. That means your data is going to be safe, should you lose your phone.

Unfortunately, an encrypted Android device does come with a few pitfalls:

  • Performance: The performance of your device will take a slight hit. Because of that, I do not recommend encrypting older or slower devices. The Moto X is a solid candidate for encryption.
  • One way: The encryption process is one way. Once encrypted, you cannot undo this. The only way to disable encryption is via factory reset.
  • Time involved: The encryption process takes about an hour (or longer, depending upon how much data you have), so you'll need a fully-charged device or have that device plugged in. Also, make sure you have plenty of time to start and finish.

If, after reading those warnings, you still want to encrypt your device, let's move forward. 

Note: The following steps will work with nearly all Android devices. I will demonstrate using the Verizon-branded Samsung Galaxy S4. Some device instructions may vary (depending upon the device).

Step 1: Fully charge, or plug in your phone

I cannot emphasize this enough. You must either have a full charge or the ability to plug your device in for the entire time the encryption process runs. If you don't, you run the risk of losing data.

Step 2: Back up your data

Although the Android platform makes it incredibly simple to restore data (even moving from phone to phone), that system can only go so far. You'll want to make sure you back up any important data to a cloud service or an external memory card.

Step 3: Begin the encryption

Here's how you begin the encryption:

  1. Open the app drawer
  2. Click Settings 
  3. Tap the More tab
  4. Tap Security
  5. Tap Encrypt device

At this point, you must select the Set screen lock type. Warning: Whatever screen lock type you choose will be used for starting the device and getting past your lock screen. Should you select to use a strong password, you'll be typing that password every single time you wake up your phone. This can be a bit cumbersome -- but if you're looking for very strong security on your device, this is the way to go.

Step 4: Walk through the encryption wizard

After you tap the Set screen lock type button, you'll have to select what type of screen lock to use (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A
Select the type of screen lock for encryption.

The next window will be determined by the type of encryption you select. I chose Password, so I had to enter (and confirm) a password (Figure B).

Figure B


Figure B

Enter a password for encryption.

As I mentioned earlier, select a strong password here, otherwise it defeats the purpose of encryption all together. Once you've confirmed your password, you'll then be informed if your phone has enough charge for the process. Even if they device is plugged in, it must have a minimum of 80% charge before the Encrypt device button will be available (Figure C).

Figure C


Figure C

When your phone is over 80% charged, you can tap the Encrypt device button.

Tap the Encrypt device button, and you'll be prompted for your password. Once you've done that, tap the Encrypt device button again, and step away from the phone. It will immediately restart and begin the process of encryption. Do NOT interrupt the process. Leave the phone plugged into the charger while the encryption process takes place. Once the phone prompts you for your encryption password, the process is complete.

I will say, on the Samsung Galaxy S4, the encryption completed within about 20 minutes and no noticeable hit on performance.

If you're looking to get the highest possible encryption from your Android smartphone, the built-in device encryption is solid. Just use caution when setting it up and do not forget your encryption password.

Do you use encryption on your Android device. Share your experience in the discussion thread below.



By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....