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Mobile Security: Why Do I Need To Encrypt My SmartPhone?

Why Do I need to Encrypt my Smartphone
August 25, 2015

With the incredible improvements in cloud computing over the past few years, losing a device has become less disruptive than it was five years ago. While losing your smartphone is certainly a major inconvenience and a financial strain, there are many ways that you can protect and store your data and personal information. Cloud backups such as iCloud and G Cloud are a good start for consumers, but those services do not protect your data in the instance of a lost or stolen mobile device.

In the past, losing a device forced you through a number of steps in order to protect personal information such as bank accounts, credit cards, pins, passwords, and so on; frantically calling credit card companies to cancel cards, checking in with your bank to prevent fraudulent activity. If you suspected your phone was stolen, it was, and definitely still is, a good idea to call your carrier and deactivate your SIM card. However, in the modern threatscape, even going through all of these tedious steps might not be enough to protect you from data theft and/or loss.

We want to ease your stress and help create a preventative approach to handling your mobile security. Fortunately, we can share a simple method to securing your device and data - it's called encryption.

Encryption is THE most effective and surefire way to achieve maximum device and data security. When you encrypt a mobile device, you must create a unique passphrase or encryption key in order to access the encrypted file. However, you must be very careful when you start working with encrypted files because the passphrase is the literal “key” to your data. If you forget your encryption key, you run a very high risk of losing your data with the inability to recover it. Before we go any further, you must remember this and be sure to write down or store your encryption key in a secure location immediately after you set it!

Why should you encrypt your smartphone?

Simply put, encrypting your smartphone makes it near-impossible for any unauthorized users to access your device. We can say this because, in order to even power on the phone, the encryption key is required. If the key is not entered, the device will not even start up. This makes it virtually impossible for anyone to access your information as even the very best hackers would not be able to decrypt your phone when it's powered off. 

There are very few disadvantages when it comes to encryption. As we mentioned above, losing or forgetting your encryption key could make it incredibly difficult, or impossible, to recover data. In order to avoid this, make sure to store your encryption key in a secure location that is not associated with the device you’re encrypting. If you store your encryption key on the device that you are encrypting, there is a high chance that your phone could be decrypted by a hacker/thief. Additionally, encryption can slow down your device's performance, but any mid-range modern smartphone should be able to handle it with minimal or no hold ups.

How to encrypt your devices: 

iOS: Luckily, as of iOS 8, Apple is already one step ahead of you. If you set a passcode and/or enable Touch ID on your device, your data will be automatically encrypted. You can reference Apple’s Security Whitepaper for iOS 8.3 and later to get more detailed information. Additionally, as described in the Whitepaper, every current iDevice has “a dedicated AES 256 crypto engine built into the DMA path between the flash storage and main system memory”, meaning that the device is specifically designed to handle the encryption and therefore performance will not be impacted.

Android: Although there has been much speculation of Android enabling automatic encryption, the devices are still not encrypted by default. However, manual encryption is relatively easy to do. These specific steps should work for any recent Android device/OS.

Before you begin, make sure that your device is plugged into a charger as interrupting the process could most likely cause data corruption. Now, start by opening your Settings App > Security > tap “Encrypt Phone” to begin the encryption process. Your device will ask you to enter your security code or “confirm your pattern” and the encryption should begin. After the encryption has finished, you can confirm that the process has worked by going to Settings > Security and looking for the “Encrypted” badge under “Encrypt Phone”.

Unfortunately for Android users, the encryption process can impact speed and performance, especially if you are using an older device. Encryption works better on new devices with at least 64-bit ARMv8 processors and faster storage. Please note that with Android there is no way to decrypt your device without completely wiping and restoring the device, therefore it might be a good idea to make a clean backup before you begin your device encryption.

*Please make sure you are familiar and completely understand any steps you take when it comes to encrypting your data. As we have mentioned, data can become corrupted or can get lost if you do not handle the process appropriately. Please call Delaney Computer Services if you have any questions about the process at 844-TECHIES.