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Are you encrypting your device? All major smartphone operating systems (OS) offer device encryption, but should you use it?

Very simply, encryption is a way of scrambling your data so only authorized people, with the correct decryption key (i.e. PIN, password, or pattern Why Passphrases Are Still Better than Passwords & Fingerprints Why Passphrases Are Still Better than Passwords & Fingerprints Remember when passwords didn't have to be complicated? When PINs were easy to remember? Those days are gone, and cybercrime risks mean fingerprint scanners are next to useless. It's time to start using passcodes... Read More ), can read it. Without it, even if your key can’t be guessed, criminals could still, say, plug your smartphone into a PC and get information that way.

Encryption isn’t about secrets; it’s about security. You might’ve heard about performance lags. You might think encryption is unnecessary.

But here’s why it’s definitely worthwhile, and why it won’t substantially affect the way you use your cell phone.

Your Data is Worth Stealing

Only big corporations use encryption, right? Well, no — not at all. Your data is worth a lot to thieves, especially given the amount of further information they can glean from your phone.

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Your name, address, date of birth, and email are all pretty easy to find out regardless, but even this Personally Identifiable Information (PII) can be sold on: criminals can come by this data fairly cheaply, but when it’s sold en masse, they can command high prices on the Dark Web Here's How Much Your Identity Could Be Worth on the Dark Web Here's How Much Your Identity Could Be Worth on the Dark Web It's uncomfortable to think of yourself as a commodity, but all of your personal details, from name and address to bank account details, are worth something to online criminals. How much are you worth? Read More .

It’s all about immersion in an individual’s life, leading to identity theft. That’s why you should always shred seemingly innocuous documents Here Are 6 Pieces of Paper You Should Always Shred Here Are 6 Pieces of Paper You Should Always Shred We know that important documents must be shredded, but complacency is easy: 'it doesn't really matter.' But should you go to extremes and destroy all records? Which documents do you really need to shred? Read More like checks, passports, and boarding passes.

So if just your name and address is worth serious cash for cybercriminals, think how much further information you have on your phone…

Thieves Can Dominate Your Life

Scroll through your device. Go on. Take a look at your contacts, your emails, your instant messenger apps, your videos, and texts. Consider the accounts you’re still logged into on the Internet.

Now think of all that data in the hands of a thief. Horrible, isn’t it?

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Due to the wealth of apps we all download and pour data into, our smartphones have become a reliable indicator of our lives, an extension of who we are. Being a victim of theft is awful enough without thinking that the item stolen can have greater use than solely being sold on Five Ways a Thief Can Profit From Your Stolen Hardware Five Ways a Thief Can Profit From Your Stolen Hardware Criminals steal your PC, your laptop, your smartphone, either by burglarising your house, or by snatching them from you. But then what happens? What can thieves do with your stolen tech? Read More .

It’s even more concerning considering the information we give social media accounts; just look how much Facebook alone knows Facebook Privacy: 25 Things The Social Network Knows About You Facebook Privacy: 25 Things The Social Network Knows About You Facebook knows a surprising amount about us – information we willingly volunteer. From that information you can be slotted into a demographic, your "likes" recorded and relationships monitored. Here are 25 things Facebook knows about... Read More about you: your interests, your location, and what sites you visit (you can wrestle back your privacy 8 Things to Do in an Hour to Wrestle Back Privacy from Facebook 8 Things to Do in an Hour to Wrestle Back Privacy from Facebook We all know that Facebook guzzles as much of your information as it can. But how can you get control of your privacy again? Quitting Facebook is an option, but other options are available. Read More , however). And from that data, scammers can make surprisingly accurate guesses at your other passwords, similar to how Digital Shadow infers private details Digital Shadow Exposes What Facebook Really Knows About You Digital Shadow Exposes What Facebook Really Knows About You While it began as a mere marketing stunt, Ubisoft's Digital Shadow remains a very useful (and potentially scary) application that shows you how much people can find out about you from Facebook. Read More .

Without encryption, all this could be in the hands of cybercriminals.

Protect Your Photos

Your camera roll and videos feel a lot more personal than even your Facebook.

We all know the trouble caused by NSFW photos: the so-called Celebgate hit the headlines How A "Minor" Data Breach Made Headline News & Ruined Reputations How A "Minor" Data Breach Made Headline News & Ruined Reputations Read More , but you don’t have to be famous 4 Ways To Avoid Being Hacked Like A Celebrity 4 Ways To Avoid Being Hacked Like A Celebrity Leaked celebrity nudes in 2014 made headlines around the world. Make sure it doesn't happen to you with these tips. Read More for potential leaks to be an effective threat. If you’ve taken or received intimate photos, it doesn’t matter who you are: you could be a target for the abhorrent blackmailing technique called sextortion Unfortunate Truths about Child Pornography and the Internet [Feature] Unfortunate Truths about Child Pornography and the Internet [Feature] A small blank square and a blinking cursor. A window through which the entire world exists. You only have to say the right word – any word – and your every desire will be delivered.... Read More . This is very simply when images or footage is used to get leverage over you. The practice has got even more threatening Sextortion Has Evolved And It's Scarier Than Ever Sextortion Has Evolved And It's Scarier Than Ever Sextortion is an abhorrent, prevalent blackmailing technique targeting young and old, and is now even more intimidating thanks to social networks like Facebook. What can you do to protect yourself from these seedy cybercriminals? Read More , with scammers tricking victims into downloading malicious apps that give them complete dominance over your relationships with family and friends.

While encrypting your device won’t stop you engaging with fake profiles set up by fraudsters solely for cybersex, it will stop any thieves from scrolling through your images. For an added layer of privacy, you could also download apps that hide your photos 4 iOS Apps For Hiding Your iPhone Photos 4 iOS Apps For Hiding Your iPhone Photos If you want to keep photos away from prying eyes, sometimes an iPhone passcode just isn't enough. Read More behind another PIN (just don’t use the same one that unlocks your phone!).

Of course, you don’t have to have NSFW material on your device to want security. Comparatively few really do have such adult content. You can still feel protective of any pictures of yourself and your family, so encryption is essential.

Data Can Still Be Recovered After Factory Resets

Thinking of selling your old phone How to Get the Most Cash From Selling Your Old Smartphone How to Get the Most Cash From Selling Your Old Smartphone Selling your old smartphone is a great way to raise funds. That is, as long as you do it right Read More ? Visit eBay and you’ll find batches of Windows Phones, BlackBerrys, and Samsung Androids. These sellers have likely been assured that all their personal data is erased when they do a Factory Reset Dealing with System Problems in Android: Safe Mode, Factory Reset & Restoring Backups Dealing with System Problems in Android: Safe Mode, Factory Reset & Restoring Backups If you've run into a problem on your Android phone or tablet, this method just might help you save it. Read More .

Sadly, that’s not the case. Instead, files are marked as deleted; that’s not the same as being completely wiped.

A determined scammer can still recover information they should never have got their hands on — and if that’s how they make a living, the criminal will have software sophisticated enough to do a thorough and swift job of stealing it. This is a particular worry if your device doesn’t offer default encryption (such as the iPhone), so now is a good time to check out how secure your OS is What Is The Most Secure Mobile Operating System? What Is The Most Secure Mobile Operating System? Battling for the title of Most Secure Mobile OS, we have: Android, BlackBerry, Ubuntu, Windows Phone, and iOS. Which operating system is the best at holding its own against online attacks? Read More .

Before passing your smartphone on to a new owner, encrypt your data then do a Factory Reset. It’ll mean that even if a criminal attempts to restore the information afterwards, it will be unreadable.

Fight Big Brother

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It’s perfectly understandable if you’re troubled by the growing powers of international governments in infringing your privacy. The worst thing is, there’s very little you can do about it.

You’ll be familiar with PRISM What Is PRISM? Everything You Need to Know What Is PRISM? Everything You Need to Know The National Security Agency in the US has access to whatever data you're storing with US service providers like Google Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook. They're also likely monitoring most of the traffic flowing across the... Read More , now what comes to mind when anyone mentions state surveillance, but the National Security Agency (NSA) and its global counterparts aren’t only keeping track of your Internet usage: your phone is naturally of interest. PRISM’s leak arguably just allowed intelligence services to own up to privacy invasions — not stop doing it.

While encrypted data on a PC might make you stand out as suspicious Can You Escape Internet Surveillance Programs Like PRISM? Can You Escape Internet Surveillance Programs Like PRISM? Ever since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on PRISM, the NSA's no longer secret surveillance program, we know one thing with certainty: nothing that happens online can be considered private. Can you really escape the... Read More , so many use passcodes for their devices now anyway, it’s not anything notable. Okay, so practices like the UK’s “Snooper’s Charter” How Britain's "Snoopers' Charter" Might Affect You How Britain's "Snoopers' Charter" Might Affect You British Prime Minister David Cameron intends to resurrect the "Snooper's Charter", a privacy-breaching set of new measures to enable enhanced monitoring of communications by the security services. Can it be stopped? Read More allows extraction and collection of metadata Metadata - The Information About Your Information Metadata - The Information About Your Information Read More , but encryption at least means authorities need your permission (or a hacker able to crack, say, iPhone security) to gain access to more specific content.

It Doesn’t Noticeably Affect Performance

You’ll probably have heard that encrypting your smartphone slows it down. It’s that old argument of security versus convenience.

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But if the latter is a priority to you, you needn’t worry. In the vast majority of cases, encryption doesn’t affect the performance of your phone to a noticeable extent. It’ll only affect older, less powerful handsets; if your OS is up-to-date, you shouldn’t have an issue.

Basically, your phone will be slightly slower when you unlock it because it needs to be decrypted each time, but owners have come to expect this sort of privacy layer from their devices, so that convenience goes hand-in-hand with security.

Loading times do naturally vary between manufacturer and OS — some reports state that the Nexus 5 takes longer than most to decrypt, while the effect on W10M and iPhones is minimal — but you won’t be lagging so far behind it becomes a huge nuisance.

It’s Very Easy To Do!

It doesn’t matter what OS your smartphone uses: encrypting is simple.

IPhones are arguably the easiest to encrypt, while Android is a slightly more elaborate process (and if you’ve rooted your phone What Is Rooting? What Are Custom ROMs? Learn Android Lingo What Is Rooting? What Are Custom ROMs? Learn Android Lingo Ever had a question about your Android device, but the answer had a bunch of words in it that you didn't understand? Let us break down the confusing Android lingo for you. Read More , you’ll need to temporarily undo that), one that can take some time — but is still nonetheless worth it. If your device runs on iOS or Android, check out how to encrypt it How To Encrypt Data on Your Smartphone How To Encrypt Data on Your Smartphone With the Prism-Verizon scandal, what allegedly has been happening is that the United States of America's National Security Agency (NSA) has been data mining. That is, they have been going through the call records of... Read More .

As for anyone with Windows Phone or W10 Mobile, you need to firstly go on Settings > Accounts > Sign-in Options and add a PIN. You can only encrypt the phone with this PIN: make sure it’s memorable but personal, so it’s not easy to guess, but not something you’ll easily forget either. This will be the only way to get access to your data.

Go back to Settings > System > Device encryption, and make sure it’s turned on. You’ll be redirected to Sign-in Options if you’ve forgotten to add a PIN.

See? It’s really that simple!

Is There Any Point Not Encrypting?

Considering the wealth of benefits, it’s a surprise device encryption isn’t more commonplace; perhaps this is due to the myths about performance or the optimistic outlook that thieves only every target other people…

Do you use encryption? What prompted you to use the security measure? Any further reasons everyone needs to be securing their data?

Image credits: Lost & Stolen Phones by West Midlands Police; and I, Phone by Matthew Hurst.

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