"What did you say? Encrypting my mobile phone? Can I really do that?" my friend asked after I suggested he should encrypt his personal data contained on his mobile phone. It is to make sure nobody else will have access to sensitive information in the event of a lost device or theft.

It happened just a few weeks ago, I was working for Sincolabs in my favorite coffee shop in Cambridge. My friend is a waiter there, and that morning he was trying to help somebody else find his phone. My friend brews an excellent coffee and is an excellent video gamer, but he is not an IT geek so he had asked me questions regarding the lost device function available on the iPhone.

Since the iPhone is an expensive device, he was so worried that the encryption would ruin it. "Is that mobile phone encrypted?" he asked, "if so it would only be physical, and unexpected surprises wouldn’t happen". My friend didn’t know this security was option available, and so I decided to share this option with you all.

For many a lost device means more money spent on a new device, a new phone cover and lost contacts. This can put so much stress on people who are obsessed with their phones. A lost device is more serious than that, as it is not only the price of the gadget that we lost, but the loss of personal photos, messages, browsing history, usage logs, cookies and passwords which can then be accessed to someone else.

You probably are thinking you are already secure due to having an access code. Although that is good and helps to make things more difficult to someone with bad intentions, it doesn’t eliminate the access when your phone is plugged into a computer. Sad news is all your personal files contained in your internal memory and SD card will show up.

Fortunately Android and iOS offer the option to encrypt all data contained in your device, so the information won’t be available to those who don’t know the password, even if they try to access directly to the memory using a computer.

There are a few requirements: enough battery to begin the encryption procedure, a pin number to block your screen and at least one hour and half of patience. There are some small disadvantages:

  • Device’s performance can be slightly affected.
  • No chances to back to the former status, if you want to you have to restore it to default settings.
  • If you forgot the password you lose all your information and need to restore the phone , which then reverts to default settings.

The advantages outweigh the disadvantages. All advantages can be summarized on a single phrase: Peace of mind. Let’s see how to do this on an Android device. Firstly, I have to say this functionality is available since Android 2.3.4, so you should have this version or newer. Hopefully this is not a problem for you. I strongly recommend doing a backup of all your information. So connect it to your computer and copy your personal files to an external hard disk.

The security menu on Android offers two encryption possibilities and you can perform both of them if you like:

  • Device encryption: It encrypts the internal memory.
  • SD Card encryption: For the external memory.

In any case you will be asked to set up a PIN number or password if you don’t have one yet. This will be asked every time you unlock your mobile.

Let go ahead and see the system shows us a message to inform about the encryption procedure that you have to accept if you definitely want to move on. Your device is close to join the club of the very secure… or probably not – as many other facts make your phone weak or secure too- but I like how it sounds!

Once you accept it I recommend you to plug the charger, as the encryption will take at least one hour and half. It’s time to come back to the real world and try to survive that long time without your beloved mobile phone. I know this is the hardest bit of the process, so there are some suggestions to survive for 90 minutes:

  • Watch a movie – something old enough where nobody uses mobile phones or other kind or mobile technology. That will help you to distract your attention.
  • Tidy your socks drawer – it’s been ages you want to pair each sock with its partner.
  • Write a real postcard – not an electronic version – to somebody else.
  • Start reading a good book.

By the end of the process you will have a nice encrypted mobile phone that will keep your personal, sensitive information secure, even if you’ve lost it.

If you are a fan of bitten apples you might want to know modern Apple devices already encrypt your data by default, but you have a to set up a password or PIN number to prevent someone else being able to access your information.

You can find this on the General settings / Passcode menu on devices running iOS 4 – 7. iOS 8 has a passcode section on the "Settings app" menu. Once you set up a password you should see the message "Data protection enabled".

And that is all you need to know about mobile device encryption, so you now can lose your mobile phone without worrying about your sensitive information being accessed, because nobody will guess your strong password. You have used a strong password, haven’t you? If not you better read my article to set up a strong password!

Keep it secure!