How to Encrypt an Android Phone (2020 Guide)

Smartphones and other mobile devices are prime sources of casual data loss. Phones travel everywhere we go, making them a tempting target for hackers and information thieves. It’s also easy to misplace a portable device and have it fall into the hands of a stranger. With so many passwords, e-mail addresses, and contact numbers stored in one place, losing a phone is like losing your identity.

A good first step security measure to protect against data loss is setting up a lock screen with a PIN, password, fingerprint, or swipe key. It’s an excellent deterrent for casual thieves, but the data itself is still fairly easy to retrieve, despite the screen lock. Fortunately the Android operating system comes with a handy security feature that can encrypt your device from head to toe, locking down private information so it’s nearly impossible to retrieve. It’s also a good idea to add an app to remotely wipe your phone in the event that it is stolen.

Encrypting an Android phone is a surprisingly simple task and only requires a few minutes to start. With a little preparation and the right tools, you can lock down your device and keep your information safe and secure.

What Does Encryption Do for Android Phones?

The encryption process works like an incredibly complex lock and key. Files on your phone are usually stored in a raw format, something akin to an unfastened padlock. Anyone can stroll by and take a look at those files or, with the right equipment, make copies for themselves. This can even happen behind your supposedly secure screen lock!

When you encrypt your phone, all of the data stored on the device gets converted into randomized numbers and letters. Like fastening the padlocks, the information is stored in an unreadable state, essentially just a pile of meaningless code. With the right keys, however, those padlocks can be unlocked and converted back into their original format. The only key that works with the locks is the one created by your device when you enter a password or PIN during the encryption process.

An encrypted phone stores all of its idle data in a safe format. Nothing is decrypted until you enter your key, and nothing can decrypt those files apart from that specific key. This makes encryption an incredibly effective privacy tool that renders stolen data nearly useless. It’s not perfect, but it serves its purpose for the vast majority of users.

Benefits of Android Phone Encryption

Privacy is the number one benefit of encrypting your Android device. Whether you’re concerned about hackers stealing information or nosy strangers unlocking your phone, encryption is the answer.

1. Protect sensitive personal information

Cell phones contain a trove of private information. E-mail accounts, passwords, bank logins, contact numbers, browsing history, your home address, and so much more, all neatly filed in a single device. In the case of malicious attacks or lost devices, the amount of data that changes hands can be staggering. With encryption in place, your information stays safe no matter what.

2. Safeguard corporate data

Do you have a work phone that contains business contacts or documents? Protecting trade secrets and confidential corporate data is arguably more important than locking down private information. If you have a work phone, make sure it’s encrypted, no exceptions.

Drawbacks of Android Phone Encryption

The privacy afforded by full disc encryption is almost a necessity in today’s world, but it isn’t without a few small drawbacks, especially if you use an older, slower device.

1. Longer boot times

Rebooting an encrypted phone takes about twice as long as unencrypted devices, all due to the security overhead. You also have to enter your PIN or lock screen password every time you reboot, which can be annoying for some users.

2. Sluggish operating speed

Have you ever noticed your phone slows down when playing certain games or running a lot of apps? This can happen when the device’s processor gets overloaded trying to handle too many tasks at once. Encryption increases the load on your device’s CPU, which can make slowdown worse and occur more frequently. The problem is barely noticeable on newer, more powerful devices, but the bottom line is if your phone is encrypted, you should expect some slowdown.

3. Encryption isn’t bulletproof

Even with a complex lock screen pattern and full disc encryption enabled, it’s still technically possible to obtain data from your device. These methods are normally reserved for skilled hackers, however.

4. Full decryption isn’t really possible

Once you encrypt your device, the only way to decrypt the entire disc is to do a factory reset. Make sure your data is backed up externally before encrypting, as there’s no undo button for this process.

5. You can’t encrypt a rooted device

If your phone is rooted and you want to encrypt it, you’ll have to unroot it first, then re-root it after encryption is complete.

How to Encrypt an Android Phone: Step by Step Guide

Android’s full disc encryption feature is built into the operating system. To enable it, all you have to do is enter the settings menu and tap through a few dialogue boxes. Before you begin, make sure your battery is fully charged or you have access to a wall outlet. Encryption can take anywhere from a few minutes to well over an hour depending on the speed of your phone and the amount of data that’s getting encrypted. If you lose power in the middle of the process, you could lose data.

Enable encryption on Android 5.0 or newer:

  1. Open the menu and tap on the Settings icon.
  2. Scroll down to the Security settings.
  3. Look for the “Encrypt phone” or “Encrypt tablet” option and tap it.

  1. You’ll be prompted to plug your phone in before beginning.

  1. Tap Continue.
  2. Enter your password or PIN if prompted.
  3. Wait for the encryption process to complete.
  4. When your device is ready, enter your PIN or password and use as normal.

Enable encryption on Android 4.4 or older:

  1. Create a PIN or password under Settings > Security > Screen Lock
  2. Go back to the Settings menu and choose “Security”
  3. Look for the “Encrypt phone” or “Encrypt tablet” option and tap it.
  4. You’ll be prompted to plug your phone in before beginning.
  5. Tap Continue.
  6. Enter your password or PIN if prompted.
  7. Wait for the encryption process to complete.
  8. When your device is ready, enter your PIN or password and use as normal.

Editor’s note: we used a Lenovo Tab 2 TB2-X30F — while we know it’s not an Android phone, everything is similar with a phone.

Important: Android Encryption Doesn’t Encrypt Internet Traffic

The main purpose of encrypting your Android phone is to prevent localized data theft. Files on your device are stored in a coded format, making it nearly impossible for someone to pick up your phone and steal your data. As soon as you provide the key and start using a file, however, that encryption is temporarily undone. This means active data you send through the internet is no longer encrypted, which can put you at risk.

There’s a critical difference between encrypting your phone and encrypting the information it sends through wireless connections. If you want to ensure your data stays private once it leaves your phone, consider using a virtual private network. Android devices are supported by most modern VPN providers, making it extremely easy to encrypt the traffic passing to and from your phone. With both local encryption and an active VPN, your data will be safe on your phone as well as across the internet.

Will Encryption Slow My Phone Down?

Regardless of the technology or devices involved, encryption almost always slows things down. The process of scrambling data and unlocking it with complex keys takes an enormous amount of time and processing power. The more data involved and the more complex (and secure) the encryption, the longer it takes. This holds true for CPU intensive tasks as well as simple things like opening a web browser or using an SMS program.

Most modern Android phones and tablets deal with the encryption overhead without too much trouble, making slowdown minimal and barely noticeable. If you have a slightly older device or frequently use CPU heavy apps, however, you’re likely to encounter some lag. The only reliable solution to this is to upgrade to a more powerful device.

Encrypting the microSD Card

Many Android devices display two encryption options in the settings: one to encrypt the phone or tablet, and one to encrypt the microSD card. Most personal data is stored on the phone itself, but if you’re interested in an extra measure of privacy, it’s not a bad idea to encrypt both.

The process of encrypting the microSD card is the same as encrypting the phone. Tap the option under Settings > Security, enter your PIN or password, plug your device into a power source, then wait for the encryption to finish. Depending on the speed of your phone and the amount of data on the card, this could take a few minutes to an hour.

Encrypting the microSD card carries a few drawbacks. For starters, you won’t be able to use the card in another device unless you decrypt and format it first. This also means that resetting your phone to factory default destroys the encryption keys to decrypt the card, making the data irretrievable.

A microSD card that’s fully encrypted will experience the same amount of slowdown as an encrypted phone. Some users opt to skip encrypting the card and make sure only non-essential apps access that storage, things like games or utility apps that don’t collect or save any private information. This is a great solution that gives you a decent level of privacy without impacting your regular activities.

Is My Device Already Encrypted?

Encryption has been an optional part of the Android operating system since Gingerbread 2.3. After Lollipop 5.0, some phones had the feature turned on right out of the box. After Marshmallow 6.0 was released, many devices made encryption mandatory. Despite these measures, however, only about 10% of Android devices are fully encrypted. That leaves a lot of unprotected phones out in the wild.

If your phone or tablet is new and already has Android 6.0 or better, chances are the entire disk was encrypted before you even turned it on. To verify, simply go to Settings > Security and scroll down to the section that says “Encrypt phone” or “Encrypt tablet“. If encryption was already active, the text should say “Encrypted“.

Difference Between Encrypting and Setting a PIN or Password Lock

Encryption and screen locks are two separate activities that aren’t necessarily linked together.  Just because your phone asks for a  PIN, password, swipe pattern, or fingerprint to pass the lock screen doesn’t mean your data is encrypted. In fact, data can still be accessed with a screen lock in place, all the intruder needs is a USB cable and a little time.

Encryption ensures that even if someone gains access to the data on your device they won’t be able to take anything useful. Without the key provided by your password and the Android device that encrypted the information, all anyone can take is a garbled mess of numbers and letters.

Can All Android Devices Do Encryption?

Not every phone, tablet, or device powered by Android will have full disc encryption as an option. Most e-readers, gaming consoles, and Android TVs skip the feature for a number of reasons, the main ones being a lack of processing power. These devices are pretty low risk as far as data theft is concerned, so the lack of an encryption option isn’t a big deal.

If your phone or Android device doesn’t offer full encryption, you can always download an app that encrypts individual files or folders. See below for a selection of recommended programs.

Encrypt Files and Folders Instead of the Entire Device

Some phones don’t handle full disk encryption so well. Slowdown can become a serious issue, making them virtually unusable. Fortunately there are some alternatives on Google Play that let you encrypt files and folders on an individual basis, affording you some level of privacy without sacrificing ease of use.

If you’ve already encrypted your Android phone, most of the programs below won’t be as useful to you. However, if you use cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive, downloading the apps can provide a little extra privacy when transferring files over the internet.

1. SSE – Universal Encryption App – A one-stop program for all of your Android encryption needs. SSE lets you encrypt individual files and folders, securely store passwords and text, lock down photos, and perform other security conscious tasks like clearing the clipboard or generating strong passwords.

2. Encdroid – A full featured file manager and encryption program that lets you protect local files as well as files transferred to and from cloud storage services such as Dropbox or Google Drive. Viewing and editing encrypted files is seamless, so you get the comfort of strong privacy without all the hassle.

3. Cryptomator – Cryptomator offers transparent encryption for files stored on cloud sync services such as Dropbox and Google Drive. It supports Android devices with a simple downloadable app and also included software for desktop PCs. Easy, free, secure, and completely open source.

4. Boxcryptor – A thorough privacy app that focuses on securing Google Drive, Dropbox, and other remote storage service files before uploading them to the cloud. You won’t gain the benefits of encrypting any folder on your Android device, but since the software supports multiple platforms, you can be sure your cloud storage data is secure.

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How to check if an Android device is 64-bit or 32-bit

Android devices, much like desktop computers and laptops, are either 32-bit or 64-bit devices. This architecture is determined by the hardware specifically the CPU used on the device and there is no changing it. If you want to check if an Android device is 64-bit or 32-bit, there are a few simple things you can try.

You should know that while 32-bit Android devices do exist, there aren’t a lot of them. Keep that in mind and try the different methods below to find the architecture for your device.

Before buying

Assuming you want to buy a new Android device, regardless if it’s a phone or a tablet, you might want to know whether it is a 32-bit device or a 64-bit device.

First determine the exact model that you will be buying. Some devices have variations that are obvious by their name e.g., Galaxy Note 10 vs Galaxy Note plus and these differences will be important.

Next, look up the full device specifications for the device. The first place to look them up is the manufacturer’s product page for it e.g., if it’s a Samsung device, visit Samsung’s product page for it. There are also other websites that will list, in great detail, the specifications for a device and you can use those as well.

Look for your device on DeviceSpecfications. Generally speaking, if the device has more than 4GB RAM, it is a 64-bit device.

If you can, find the complete Kernel version that will be running on the device you plan to purchase. It is possible that the information is printed on the box of the device but it should also be available online. If the kernel version has _64 in the name, the device is a 64-bit device.

After buying

Assuming you’ve already bought the device, and opened it, you can go through the device’s settings, and install apps to check if an Android phone is 32-bit or 64-bit.

Open Settings and go to either ‘System’, or ‘About Phone’. The name will differ based on your device but you’re looking for information about your phone. Check the Kernel version here. If it’s not on this screen, look for the Android version, and tap it.

If you don’t want to search through your device’s setting, or the information isn’t there as in the screenshot below, go ahead and install a free app called CPU-Z from the Google Play Store. Open the app, and go to the System tab.  Look for the Kernel architecture field and it will tell you if your device is 32-bit or 64-bit.

Converting 32-bit to 64-bit

If you have a 32-bit device, you cannot convert it to a 64-bit device. The architecture is a characteristic of the processor on the device and changing it isn’t possible. You’re going to have to buy a device that is 64-bit.

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How to get the web console log in Chrome for Android

Chrome has a web console that is incredibly useful for debugging websites. It’s really easy to access it on the desktop but the Android version of Chrome doesn’t seem to have one. In fact, debugging websites on a mobile web browser gets complicated because not many browsers have a built-in web console for debugging. If you use Chrome on your Android device though, you can get the console log for any website. The only catch is you’re also going to need to use your desktop for it. Anything goes here; Windows, Linux, or macOS, but you must have the Chrome browser installed on your desktop.

On your Android phone

On your Android phone, you need to do three things;

  1. Install Chrome.
  2. Enable Developer options. You can do this by going to the Settings app, finding System, and tapping the build number seven times.
  3. Enable USB Debugging. Go through the Developer options and enable USB debugging there.

Once you’ve done all of the above, open Chrome on your phone, and connect your phone to your computer via its data cable. If you’re prompted to, allow USB debugging on your phone. Go to the website you want to debug.

On your desktop

Open Chrome on your desktop. Paste the following in the URL bar and tap enter.

chrome://inspect/#devices

Your Android phone will show up here. Click the Inspect option under the tab you want to view the web console for.

A new window will open. You can interact with the Chrome browser on your Android phone via the left panel in this window or you can interact with it on your device so long as you do not disconnect it from your computer.

At the bottom right, you will see the console for it. When you’re done interacting with it and are ready to save the console log, right-click inside the console and select the save option. The log file is saved as LOG file but it can be viewed using any text editor of your choice.

This only works between Chrome browsers and not between Chromium-based browsers. Chromium-based browsers may have an internal page for devices but the chances that it detects Chrome on your Android phone, or any other browser on your Android phone are rather slim. If you need to test a website on a particular Chromium-based browser, you can try this trick and see if you have any luck but it is a Chrome-feature for the most part.

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Fun Ways That The Average Person Can Use Custom QR Codes Every Day

Wondering how to use QR codes? It’s simple! You can use a custom QR code to store an unlimited amount of data, photos, and videos in one place and share it with a unique audience. See our favorite ways to use QR codes for your pet’s ID tag, your own luggage tags, custom business cards, your job resume & cover letter, and house-for-sale flyers, and more!

How to disable ‘Complete your timeline’ alerts from Google Maps

Google Maps actively accesses location data when you use the app on your mobile. It’s no secret and the app obviously cannot function unless it has this information. The app also continues to use your location when it is no longer running or in the background. This allows it to always show you your updated location and to help you navigate if you’re using it for directions. The only annoying part is that even if you never access the app, it still knows when you’ve visited a place. It will send you alerts to add these locations to your history and ‘Complete your timeline’.

Google Maps detects that you’ve visited a place when you travel from one location to another, make an extended stop, and then leave said location. It’s simple enough to figure out and since it has exact location data, it can also tell very accurately where you went. On the app’s part, it is being pro-active but if you’d rather not get these alerts, you will have to disable location history to do so. Here’s how.

Disable location history

You can disable location history from any web browser though you might have a better time of it if you do it from your desktop. Visit the Location History settings for your Google Account at this link. Sign in to your Google account, and then turn off Location History.

You will see a prompt asking if you really want to turn off location history, and what you stand to lose if you choose to disable it. You will basically stop seeing location-based recommendations which, depending on how often you got them and how useful they were to you, might be a trade-off you have to make.

The setting is applied across all your devices and all apps that are using the same Google account.

Google does not share this location history with anyone. It tells you as much in the confirmation prompt you get when you disable location history but, it still has a lot of information, in fact, every single bit of location information for you. You don’t even have to check-in to a location for the app to know you were there. That isn’t going to go away when you turn location history off but Google will not be able to keep a record of it.

If you find the recommendations useful, or you have your own reasons for keeping location history on, you’re going to have to put up with the alerts asking you to add locations you’ve visited to your timeline. You might want to look into how you can periodically delete Google account data.

Read How to disable ‘Complete your timeline’ alerts from Google Maps by Fatima Wahab on AddictiveTips – Tech tips to make you smarter