How to encrypt your Android smartphone or tablet

According to estimates, less than 10 percent of the 1.4 billion or so Android devices out in the wild are encrypted, compared to over 95 percent of iPhones. Here's how to encrypt your smartphone or tablet.

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Have you encrypted your Android device? If so, congratulations, you are one of the small number who do. Feel free to leave class early. But if your Android smartphone or tablet isn't encrypted - and estimates out there claim that fewer than 10 percent of the 1.4 billion or so Android devices out in the wild are encrypted - then here's how you go about securing your data.

See also: How to securely wipe an Android smartphone or tablet

All you need to encrypt your Android smartphone or tablet is time (it can take a couple of hours, so make sure your battery is fully charged or your device is connected to the charger). You don't need to root the device, and you don't need to buy or download any software.

I'm going to assume here that you're running Android 5.0 or later. Anything older and you really should consider upgrading your operating system or hardware. Also note that most devices that are shipping with Android 6.0 have mandatory full-device encryption.

  • First, back up your data. I've done this process many times and never had a problem, but if things go bad, and all your favorite cat videos end up gone, don't say I didn't warn you.
  • Go to Settings > Lock Screen > Screen Lock > [input your current password] > Password and create a strong password. Do I need to remind you of the importance of remembering this password?
  • Next go to Settings > System > Security > Encrypt device and select Encrypt phone (or, if you're doing this on a tablet, Encrypt tablet). You will be asked to confirm your password again.
  • Sit back and wait for the encryption process to complete. I've seen this take anything between 45 minutes and a couple of hours.

That's it. Are there drawbacks? I can think of a few of small ones:

  • There could be a performance hit, especially on older devices.
  • The only way to roll back encryption is to wipe the device.
  • You have to enter your password on each reboot and to unlock the device, and you lose the convenience of pattern and PIN unlock. That said, more modern devices with a fingerprint reader can still use that as an unlock mechanism.

If your device uses an external SD card, you can encrypt that too. Just go to Settings > System > Security > Encrypt external SD card > Enable and follow the prompts. This not only encrypts the contents of the SD card, but it also means that the card cannot be used on another device unless it is wiped.

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