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FBI, keep out! How to encrypt everything

Galen Gruman | Feb. 29, 2016
Encryption is a vital self-defense tool, so here's how to enable it on all your devices and computers running the major OSes.

The FBI’s inability to crack a terrorist’s iPhone 5c shows the strong protection you can get for your private information on a mobile device. That same encryption is also available on your computer, at least in some cases.

Given the increasing access to personal and corporate data sought by the U.S. government, as well as by other politicians, unscrupulous businesses, and criminal hackers, people should up their game on what they protect. Fortunately, it's not hard to do. (But be sure to back up your data before you encrypt your devices, in case a power failure occurs during the encryption process and makes your data unavailable.)

How to encrypt your iOS or Android mobile device

On your mobile devices, be sure to do the following:

Upgrade to iOS 9 or Android 5 or 6 on all your smartphones, tablets, and data-storing devices like iPod Touches to get their hardware-assisted encryption capabilities. Then enable encryption on those devices.

In iOS, all you have to do is turn on password protection, which you do in the Settings app's Touch ID & Passcode section; encryption is in play once a password is required. When you unlock your device (whether it is asleep, turned off, or restarted), entering the password decrypts the device.

Left: To enable encryption for your iOS device, open the Settings app, tap Touch ID & Passcode, tap Turn Passcode On, and follow the instructions. Also set the grace period before an idle device locks itself and requires a password by tapping Require Passcode. Note: If your device is enrolled in a management server, the idle duration may be set for you already. Right: To encrypt your device backups, open iTunes on your Mac or PC, select your device from the Devices menu (the iPhone icon at upper left), go to its Summary tab, enable This Computer in the Backups section, check Encrypt iPhone/iPad Backup, and follow the instructions. (Click on image to enlarge).

On Android, you enable encryption in the Settings app as well; the location varies from vendor to vendor and version to version, but you can typically find it within the Security area or Lock Screen and Security area. Look for an option called Encrypt Device or Encrypt Phone and tap it. If your Android device has an SD card installed, you should also see the Encrypt SD Card option to encrypt that external storage.

Although the use of encryption requires you enter a password on your device, it does so only when you restart or turn on the device -- not to unlock a sleeping device. You should also set an unlock password for your Android device. You do that in the Settings app: Tap Security or the equivalent option, then tap Screen Lock or the equivalent option. Then choose PIN, Password, or Fingerprints (if your device supports fingerprint IDs) and set up your password. Be sure to set the lock time for how long the device can be idle before a password is required to unlock it; look for an option called Automatically Lock or something similar, again in the Security section of the Settings app.


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