Google insists on full-disk encryption for new Android 6.0 devices

David laveque
David LaVeque

Encrypted android Yes, no, yes! Are you sure this time, Google?

In Google’s new Android Compatibility Definition Document (CDD), the company affirms that it is finally making encryption mandatory, out of the box, for all new devices running Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

Here is what the CDD says:

“For device implementations supporting full-disk encryption and with Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) crypto performance above 50MiB/sec, the full-disk encryption MUST be enabled by default at the time the user has completed the out-of-box setup experience.”

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Fortunately, or not, a lockscreen passcode set-up will not be required, but can easily be initiated later, without requiring the disk to be re-encrypted. A default passcode for encryption will be provided by OEMs, and lets hope they do this sensibly, unlike the shockingly poor security practices demonstrated by WiFi router manufacturers in the past.

There are exceptions to the new agreement, as stated in the new CDD:

“If a device implementation is already launched on an earlier Android version with full-disk encryption disabled by default, such a device cannot meet the requirement through a system software update and thus MAY be exempted.”

I don’t anticipate much of a performance hit in newer devices, and now is a good time to make this mandatory, because of the avalanche of mobile malware discovered so far this year – the vast majority of which targets the Android platform.

Surely Google is concerned about their image, and their push for enterprise Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) usage. But this still does not solve the larger issue of fragmentation, and security updates, which leaves the majority of users exposed for months and even years to security threats.

Despite all of the malware being discovered this past year, I am still an Android fan, and love all my Google apps and free services.

And it’s worth remembering that Apple is far, far, from perfect, with an uptick in incidents on the iOS platform this year as well.

But, as Android users, we need to get educated on ways to mitigate the vulnerabilities we all are – and continue to be – exposed to.

Mobile is overtaking desktop in many ways, and in the end, we as users, are always the weakest security link.

David LaVeque has been an Android enthusiast since his first device, an HTC Evo 4g lte - only a few years ago. He became interested in the infosec community while researching updates, and says he stumbled upon a security blogger who ignited his passion for security and privacy issues. David loves searching out and experimenting with all kinds of utility apps, and is a voracious reader of security blogs and research papers.

4 comments on “Google insists on full-disk encryption for new Android 6.0 devices”

  1. coyote

    'Yes, no, yes! Are you sure this time, Google?'

    My thoughts before the page loaded.

    'Fortunately, or not, a lockscreen passcode set-up will not be required, but can easily be initiated later, without requiring the disk to be re-encrypted.'

    That seems quite suspect to me. The fact they also have default passwords makes it worse. I'm not sure if I'm surprised with Google, but then again, many would probably rather not deal with it anyway, so maybe no harm in the end (those who want it would at least try to do it properly). On the other hand, depending on how many characters allowed, and from what character classes, maybe it'll not make much of a difference.

    1. David L · in reply to coyote

      Hi coyote,

      Thanks, your opening remarks made my day. The security conscious do think alike.

  2. Thomas D Dial

    It is not Google's place to insist that I encrypt what is on my cell phone (or any other android device), just as it is not the government's place to forbid it or insist that an encryption system be used that provides for law enforcement access. Google took the right approach years ago by providing a fairly easy to use capability to encrypt my data if I chose to do so. That I chose not to do so, but instead to avoid storing important data on the phone is my business, not theirs.

    The article is not entirely clear, but suggests that the default at initial setup will be to encrypt and that a specific user choice will be required to decline storage encryption; the mechanics are not mentioned, but likely are similar to Apple's, to encrypt if (and only if) a pass code is chosen. That is a reasonable choice, especially if the setup procedure makes it entirely clear that forgetting the pass code is equivalent to losing all the data. (If it is not, the utility of the encryption is reduced and, for purposes of those who have reason to fear law enforcement, pretty much eliminated).

    1. David L · in reply to Thomas D Dial


      I did mention above that "out of the box" encryption will "already" be set up. You should be able to disable if you wanted,but it will not be obvious to the novice. Also,changing the default passcode will be an option that should pop up at start up. Same for lockscreen. It's just that there will be no "skip" for encryption at start up. Most will just go with the program,and never notice.

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