How to encrypt an Android mobile and encrypt the SD card

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Long gone are the days when mobile phones were only used to make calls and send messages. Today we carry complete computing units in our pockets, with characteristics similar to those of any laptop or desktop computer. They manage data of a very sensitive nature such as identifying, banking, purchasing or medical information, for example, that should be protected. If this is your case, we intend to give you a hand with this article, showing you how to encrypt your Android data, either the internal memory or the SD card, so that no one can access them, not even with a computer. Only you with the corresponding PIN number will be able to do it.

How to encrypt an Android mobile

The first thing you should ask yourself is what version of Android you use. Depending on this, your device may already be encrypted or you may have to force the process manually.

Android 10 onwards

In versions from Android 10, the terminals are encrypted by default. The terms encrypted and encrypted are, by the way, synonymous and you will see that we use them interchangeably. This encryption by default cannot be disabled and affects the entire internal memory of Android. From Android 10 onwards, the green robot’s operating system uses an encryption system known as Adiantum that is intended to increase the reading and encryption speed by up to five times when accelerated by hardware not available. Additionally, a layer of encryption compatible with TLS 1.3 is added, which is used to protect the transfer of data and information that is exchanged between our phone and the Internet.

To verify that encryption is indeed active, go to the path Settings> Security> Advanced> Encryption and credentials:

Checking encryption on Android 11Checking encryption on Android 11

If you try to click on the section Encrypt phone, you will see that you are not allowed to make any changes.

Versions prior to Android 10

In versions of the operating system prior to Android 10, the encryption issue works differently. The process implies that you take into account a couple of conditions:

  • Make sure your terminal is fully charged. The encryption process can take more than an hour depending on the model of the terminal. Running out of battery could lead to irreversible data loss.
  • You will need to set a screen lock PIN. It is an essential requirement, the operating system itself will invite you to do it if you have not done so. If you do not have this code established, you will not be able to proceed with the encryption of the terminal.

If you have an Android terminal with a version lower than 10, go to Settings> Security> Encrypt phone. Remember that the encryption process takes around an hour, and that during that time you will not be able to use the device.

At some point during encryption, the operating system will ask us to enter a security PIN. Regardless of which one you choose, write it down somewhere where you know you can easily find it. You would be surprised how easily these things are forgotten.

In the very unlikely event that you have a device with Android 4.4 KitKat or lower, the only difference with all of the above is that we will have to set the PIN code before starting the process.

How to encrypt SD card

As in the case of internal memory, the encryption of the SD card changes depending on the version of the system you use. In the most modern versions this encryption of the SD is only possible through a shortcut. In older versions, you may have a dedicated option in your settings.

Android 7.0 or higher

At first glance you will not find any option that, as such, allows you to encrypt the SD card. The only way to encrypt the content of the micro SD card so that it can only be read through your terminal is by formatting it as internal storage.

To do this, go to the Settings> Storage route and click on the SD card:

SD card in storage settingsSD card in storage settings

On the screen we will arrive at, click on the menu button (in the upper right corner of the screen) and, there, select Storage settings:

Actions menu on the SD cardActions menu on the SD card

Here we will arrive at a new screen in which we will see the Format as internal option. If we click on it, a message will appear before us informing us of the consequences that converting the external memory card into internal storage will have for us. If we click on Format as internal, the process will begin:

Options to format the SD card as internal storageOptions to format the SD card as internal storage

You must bear in mind that, if you want to keep the data on the memory card, you will have to make a backup copy of it before starting the formatting process. Otherwise, all the data will be lost in the process. It should also be clarified that, if at any time you want to recover the SD card as external memory, you will have to reformat it.

Versions prior to Android 7.0

If you have a phone with an Android version lower than 7.0, in that case the process you should follow is, first of all, go to the route Settings> Security. Once there, click on the option Encrypt memory card, or similar (this may vary depending on the terminal and the manufacturer).

Before proceeding with the encryption, the system will ask us if we want to exclude the multimedia files from the encryption. Keep in mind that if you use the microSD card to mainly store photos and music, it may be a good idea not to encrypt these files.

Keep in mind that, once the encryption of the SD card has been completed, the data on it can only be accessed from the terminal itself. From any other device (a computer, another phone, etc.) this data is completely inaccessible.

Advantages and disadvantages of encrypting your Android

The main advantage of having the encrypted phone (we remember that in the current versions it is mandatory) is that the user’s personal data will be safe. Namely, your data will only be seen by you and you will have the power to decide who else can see them.

Taking into account that, in addition, today we have biometric measures (facial recognition or fingerprints) in addition to the PIN codes and passwords that must be established in current terminals before starting to use them. If our mobile phone is stolen, even if they manage to extract the data, the only thing the thieves will see is incomprehensible machine code.

As far as disadvantages are concerned, the main one in old terminals that do not incorporate it by default is that phone performance suffers. The decrease in performance in the medium and high ranges may be imperceptible or not noticeable, but in less powerful devices it can mean the difference between having a usable Android or not.

Another major downside to be aware of is that on some models, encryption is a process that cannot be easily undone. We insist, now it is no longer a problem, but if you have an old device and that loss of power is appreciable, you may want to consider it before launching.