How to Use Encryption Effectively on Android Phones

by Tracy Knauer •

Android phones and tablets have come with built-in encryption support for several years. Since the Android Lollipop release in 2014 encryption has even been turned on by default. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your Android personal data is secure. There are additional steps you should take to prevent access to your data in case your device is stolen.

Here’s what you should do to make sure encryption is on and working properly in Android:

  1. First, figure out whether encryption is enabled on your device. Devices that shipped with Android versions Lollipop or Marshmallow should have encryption turned on by default. But it’s not turned on automatically if your device was simply upgraded to those releases. So, to check, go to Settings, then click Security, then Encrypt Device. From there, you can see if encryption is enabled.
  2. If encryption is not enabled, turn it on. Before doing so, however, make sure you have a fair amount of battery life left, and that you won’t need your device for the next hour or so. That’s about how long you can expect it to take to encrypt your data.
  3. If your device is already encrypted, be sure never to disable the passcode (i.e., the code you have to enter to get past the lock screen on your device). The passcode may be annoying, but encryption depends on it. If you disable the passcode encryption will stop working.
  4. Make sure removable media, like SD cards, is encrypted. Android’s built-in encryption only protects data stored on the non-removable storage devices inside your phone or tablet. If you have external storage cards you should encrypt them, too, if they contain sensitive data. (Keep in mind that encrypting them will make it impossible to access them on other devices, like your PC, unless you set up the encryption keys there.) Android now allows you to encrypt SD cards by going to Settings>Security and clicking “Encrypt external SD card.”
  5. Never assume that your data is securely encrypted when your device is on. Having your disk encrypted doesn’t mean your data is any safer when it is being transmitted over the Internet. It also doesn’t protect it from anyone who gains physical access to your phone with the lock screen off. This may be obvious to many people, but it’s important to note so that disk encryption doesn’t lead to a false sense of security in other areas.

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