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What is demystifying mobile encryption and its necessity

(Image credit: Image Credit: Carballo / Shutterstock)

Celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Watson, Miley Cyrus, and Holly Willoughby amongst others have become victims of hackers who have stolen private images off their cell phones and released them on the internet. With smartphones being an integral part of every individual’s everyday life, the threat of having any information stolen is very much real. It is essential that every individual has a basic knowledge about cybersecurity and encryption, which is lacking amongst the public at large. 

Once a cyber-criminal gets hold of your smartphone, a whole pool of knowledge about yourself, ranging from casual conversations to your bank information, becomes available to him. It becomes very easy for that cybercriminal to get information about life and your choices. Thus, it is of utmost importance that a smartphone is protected by encryption, thus protecting your sensitive data in case your device falls in the wrong hands. 

What is encryption?

Encryption helps save your smartphone’s data in a scrambled and unreadable form. Thus a smartphone that would have a huge pool of data including text messages, emails, contacts, photos, and various documents would be protected from being hacked via encryption. Full Disk Encryption i.e., FDE, would encrypt all the necessary data on your device. It is the encryption done on a hardware level. 

Encryption automatically helps protect any information by converting it into a scrambled and unreadable form. This data cannot be read unless the user has some right authentication key such as password, PIN, or a lock pattern. When the correct authentication key is entered, the phone decrypts the data, thus making it readable. 

If you are an average user, you might be under the impression that you don’t have any sensitive data on your device. However, it is still advisable to encrypt your phone since the cybercriminal would still have access to your private information such as your emails, home address, personal photos, and more. Whether the cybercriminal intends to wipe off the data of the stolen phone or steal any data, it is advised that you keep all your data protected. 

Android introduced default encryptions in 2014, but it wasn’t until the release of Android 6.0 Marshmallow in 2015 that Google started requiring manufacturers to enable encryption on all devices out of the box. 

Apple began encrypting iOS devices in 2014 with the release of iOS 8. This means that Apple can still access any device before this update if law enforcements present the company with a warrant. With iOS 8 and beyond, Apple can no longer bypass the lock and gain access to the data, which means that it can only be accessed with the device’s PIN. 

Encrypting an Android device does come with few drawbacks:

  • Slow down the performance:

The performance of the smartphone will be affected slightly. Because of this reason, encryption of older devices is not advised.

  • One way process

There is no coming back once the phone is encrypted. The only way of un-doing encryption is to factory reset the phone. 

  • Time consuming:

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The entire process of encryption takes approximately an hour. It mainly depends on what is the quantum of data in your device. Make sure that the smartphone is fully-charged and that you have enough time on your hand.

The necessity of encrypting your device:

Knowingly or unknowingly, we pour a lot of personal information online or on our device. The number of apps we are heavily relying on alone contains quite a lot of personal information that we wouldn’t want any third person to come across. Come to think of it, Facebook and Google are both holders of a huge amount of personal data of the users, such as location, interests, photos, websites visited, and more. 

Third-party apps that require sign-ups using email-id or Facebook are also risky. One of the most recent examples of third-party apps that put users’ data at risk has been the exciting game, Pokemon Go. The much-loved game was one of its kind, where millions signed up instantly on the first version of the app. However, before an updated version was released, the iOS app only gave new users the option to play if they agreed to provide full access to all of their Google account information. This gives the right to Google to potentially ‘see and modify nearly all information in your Google Account’. 

Mobile security breaches can happen in different forms ranging from downloading malware-infected apps to hopping on a hacker’s faux wi-fi. What also makes the cybercriminals’ job easy is poor passwords and weak security pins. This would make accessing your device an easy task. Also, one should be wary of outside resources like free wi-fi, third-party apps, and charging stations where your device can quickly get into the wrong hands. 

Necessary encryption protects the information you directly input into your mobile and the data saved on the cloud. However, that encryption has no hold on any information which is stored on the device. Encryption levels of any instrument are measured via the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). AES levels vary from device to device, though the benchmark should be 256 AES.

Not everyone will require high-standard levels of encryption. But it is of utmost importance that one is wary of the information that is shared online and being put into your phone. What is even more important is that care is taken of changing your passwords on a regular interval and that the contents are adequately protected. 

People at large should be aware of the phone’s encryption levels and that there are no loopholes left, which would make the task easier for any hackers. Cybercrimes are on a rise. Hacking has become a regular occurrence on a global scale, making it very important to be vigilant in the protection of your personal data. 

Louise Campos, social media, content marketing and communications strategist

Louise Campos, social media, content marketing, and communications strategist.