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Encrypting My Phone, Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying About a Stranger Accessing My Data

Encrypting My Phone, Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying About a Stranger Accessing My Data

Losing your phone is the worst: you aren’t just out of a phone—you also have to worry about a stranger having access to all your photos, banking apps, messages, contacts, emails, social media posts, and… yikes.

Luckily, there are two big things you can do that prevent someone with physical access to your phone from seeing what’s inside!

1) Set a password, and

2) Encrypt your phone.

Password-protecting and encrypting your device is a powerful combination: encryption scrambles the data on your phone into gibberish, which can then only be meaningfully decrypted (unscrambled and read) by someone who knows the password.

The steps for setting a password and encrypting your device differ for iPhones and for Android.

You can access Apple’s encryption guide here. Or, to set a password and encrypt iPhones running iOS 9 through iOS 11: Open the Settings app. Then, tap Touch ID & Passcode. Follow the prompts to create a passcode.

Good news for iPhone users: your phone is already encrypted by default, so you don’t have to do the second step—you just have to set a password to protect it from unwanted physical access. We recommend using a unique password (something you don’t use anywhere else), rather than a thumbprint.

Looking for more safety tips? Check out the full guide from Surveillance Self-Defense.

To set a password and encrypt an Android phone: On Android devices, setting a password and encrypting a phone can be distinct processes—turning on password protection doesn’t mean that your phone’s data is encrypted. Be mindful to look up what options your phone has available, and whether your phone is already encrypted.

Caution: if your phone is not encrypted by default, you will want to back up your phone data to your computer beforehand and set aside time for it to encrypt and restart.

Setting a password on an Android phone: Open Settings. Go to Security. Under Security, look for Screen lock. Select a password option—try setting a password that you can memorize, and that you don’t use anywhere else.

Looking for advice on what makes a strong password? Read EFF’s tips in Surveillance Self-Defense. 

If your Android phone is not encrypted by default: Open Settings. Go to Security, then Encrypt Device. Alternatively, you might find encryption settings by opening Storage, then, Lockscreen and security. The option for encrypting your device may be under Other security settings.

Soraya Okuda is the education and design lead at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). EFF was founded in 1990 to protect the rights of technology users, a mission that expands as the digital world evolves. They provide leadership on cutting-edge issues of free expression, privacy, and human rights. CREDO and EFF have been long-time partners in the fight for privacy and civil liberties, and CREDO members have voted to donate over $323,000 to the organization since 2007.

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