Do you encrypt the data on your smartphone? If not, you risk losing it the moment your phone is stolen. Encrypting your data is (in most cases) so simple that not bothering is more or less an open invitation to thieves and scammers to steal your data and profit from it.
All you need is the right software, usually provided in the operating system or by the device manufacturer.
Securing Your Smartphone: It is Simple, so Do it!
With the threat of smartphone theft so great, and with so many opportunities for thieves to relieve you of your portable store of emails, photos, search data, account logins, and other personal information, it is imperative that you apply a lock to your handset.
This might be a short PIN, a shape that you swipe through on the display to unlock, or even a photo of your face, if you’re using facial recognition to unlock the device. But how do you set this up?
On Android, open Settings > Security > Screen security. Here, tap Screen lock where you can select between Swipe, Pattern, PIN, and Password access methods. Set up whichever you’re most comfortable with to unlock your phone.
If you’re using Windows Phone, go to Settings > Lock screen > Password and switch this to On. You’ll be prompted to set a new password, which must be numerical, but can be more than four digits.
IPhone and iPad users should open Settings > Passcode and select Turn passcode on. You can then use the new options to set a long or short passcode (use the Simple Passcode switch to toggle this). With the passcode set up, this will be required whenever you restart or wake your iPhone.
Using a BlackBerry? Let’s agree they’re underrated, and leave it at that. To set a password open Settings > Security and Privacy > Device Password and set the switch to On, then set a password when prompted.
Modern BlackBerry devices also have a separate user space, known as the “work space.” This is essentially a secondary profile that has its own data and this can be set by swiping down from the top of the screen and selecting Balance > Change Password. Note that forgetting your work space password will result in the work space and the data within being deleted after so many failed attempts, and this password cannot be reset or recovered. You may find it safer to use the set the work space password as your device password with Use as my device password switched to On.
(If your BlackBerry is attached to a corporate email account, security should have already been put in place, so speak to your organization’s IT department.)
Lock Your SIM Card for Even More Smartphone Security
Warning: don’t activate SIM card lock without first knowing the network-provided PIN number!
PINs and swipes are just one way of protecting your phone. You can introduce an additional layer of security by locking your SIM card, which can prevent unauthorized access to phone calls. This will not lock the rest of the phone, so can be useful if you’re letting a small person use your smartphone for playing games.
Android users should go to Settings > Security > SIM card lock and tap Set up SIM card lock. In the next screen, switch Lock SIM card to On. This will enable the SIM card lock, but you will need to input the existing SIM card code in order to enable or change the code.
If you’re using iOS, go to Settings > Phone > SIM PIN (or Settings > Cellular Data > SIM PIN on iPad) and enter the existing, network-provided SIM PIN to confirm. Subsequently, your device will have a screen unlock PIN and a SIM PIN.
On Windows Phone, a SIM lock can be set in Settings > Applications > Phone, where you should enable SIM security. When you’re prompted to enter the PIN, do so according to the instructions from your network provider. You will now have two PIN codes on your phone, one to unlock the screen and a second to unlock the PIN – don’t confuse them!
For BlackBerry, swipe down and open Settings > Security and Privacy > SIM Card and set the SIM Card PIN Lock switch to On. You may notice that you have two SIM card PIN codes. The first is to protect the SIM card, while the second controls access to calling features. Both can be activated if necessary, although this may prove too much security. (Incidentally, did you know it’s relatively easy to migrate from BlackBerry to Android?)
Encrypting Your Android, iPhone, or Windows Phone
These two locks are useful, but for the optimum in device security, you should introduce encryption, the most secure method of protecting the data on your device. After all, even if a thief isn’t able to guess a four-digit PIN, or follow the pattern left by your greasy thumb across the phone’s display, he or she is still going to be able to glean a nice chunk of personal information by plugging a USB cable into an Android smartphone and reading the storage using a PC.
Encrypting your phone, however, will prevent anyone without your PIN from accessing any of the data stored on it. There really is no reason not to do this.
Encrypting Data on Android
Data encryption on Android is separated from the main passcode setup screen, but once activated is linked to the passcode. Note that once encryption is applied should you forget your PIN, your data will remain inaccessible. Only your PIN can decrypt your data.
To encrypt your Android device, you should have already set up a PIN as above. You will also need to connect your phone to the charger as the encryption process is battery intensive. Proceed to Settings > Security > Encryption > Encrypt Phone. Read the warning/explanation, and ensure that you are happy with the implications of encryption. Once satisfied, tap ENCRYPT PHONE and then go and do something else. During the encryption process, you phone will be dedicated to that task, so you won’t be able to make calls, run apps, check email, etc.
Once encryption is complete, your phone should run as normal. This does, however, depend on whether your handset has a dedicated processor for dealing with encryption/decryption, or whether it relies on the main processor. If the latter, then things are going to be a bit slow with encryption activated. Fortunately, in most cases, if encryption is making your phone run like a square wheel, you can return to Settings > Security > Encryption > Encrypt Phone and disable encryption. We wouldn’t recommend this in most cases, however.
Encrypting Data on iOS
Things are a little simpler with iOS. As soon as you set a passcode/PIN for your device (see above), the data on an iPhone or iPad is encrypted.
Encrypt Windows Phone 8.x
Unless your Windows Phone is managed by your organization, it cannot be encrypted. This can only be achieved via a Microsoft Exchange server. Microsoft’s advice for users wishing to encrypt their devices is to employ the standard PIN, which needs to be entered in order for the device to be read via USB connection to a PC. They also instruct users to activate Find my Phone, despite this system’s long running unreliability.
Encrypt Your BlackBerry
Enabling encryption on a BlackBerry device is just as simple as other platforms. Swipe down and tap Settings > Security > Encryption, then switch Device Encryption and/or Media Card Encryption to On.
Remember that encrypted data will be inaccessible if you forget your device passcode.
Other Methods to Secure Your Smartphone
Encryption, screen locks and SIM card PINs aren’t the only way to secure your smartphone. You should be using a remote device location tool like Prey, for example, but other methods are available. Perhaps you know of one or two? Share your knowledge in the comments.