We all have particularly important and sensitive files: financial reports, old family photos or a hobby that you want to keep secret from close friends.
However, it is unsafe to have your files on a laptop or PC. Devices could be stolen, and a simple mistake while browsing the internet could give a hacker full access. The best way to do this is to fully encrypt your files and folders.
What is file encryption?
By encrypting a file, you encrypt its contents beyond recognition. You unlock it with a cryptographic key, i. H. A password or code. This way, only authorized persons can access the data with the encryption key.
The encryption varies in speed, efficiency and strength depending on various factors such as the length of the key and the type of encryption.
All in all, however, encryption means that instead of keeping an entire file safe, all you need to do is protect your password.
Why do you need file encryption?
There are several reasons why you should encrypt one or more of your files.
On the way
When you travel with your laptop or occasionally use it in public places, your private files are protected by encryption in case someone steals your device or hacked into your device with open WiFi and installed spyware.
Whether you use cloud storage and online sharing services, a USB flash drive, or email to share files with someone, they are not impenetrable. Encrypting your file before sending it ensures that it stays secure even if someone intercepts it.
Cyber security works in shifts. In order for a hacker to gain access to your files, they must overcome several barriers.
Encrypting a file that contains sensitive information adds another layer of protection that makes the job of potential hackers much more difficult.
Maintaining Integrity and Compliance
If the file you are trying to encrypt contains sensitive information and it is not encrypted, it can become unusable in critical situations where data integrity is of critical importance.
Which files do you need to encrypt?
It is a subjective question of which files need more security. It depends on what type of information you value most and what kind of privacy protection you are looking for.
But that doesn't mean there aren't any files that everyone should encrypt. Some of them are:
Financial information and records.
Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
Confidential project files.
Backups and Archives.
In short, consider encrypting content that could be used against you, for anything from identity fraud to blackmail.
Why not encrypt your entire drive?
Encrypting your entire drive, also known as full disk encryption, seems like a great solution to protecting all of your files and data regardless of their importance.
However, full disk encryption is not recommended for the average user. This can slow down your device significantly, make data backup and recovery difficult, and fail to protect your files while in transit or sharing, leaving them completely exposed and vulnerable.
Unless all of your data is extremely sensitive and you have a powerful device that you'd like to slow down, full disk encryption is too much of a good thing.
How to encrypt a file
The best option to encrypt files is to use specialized software. So let's see how to do this on Windows and Macs.
How to encrypt files on Windows
WinRAR is one of the most famous data services that Windows devices are often preinstalled on. In addition to compressing files, you can also encrypt them with a strong password.
To keep things simple and neat when extracting your files, put everything you want to encrypt into one folder and do the following to encrypt it with WinRAR:
Right-click the file or folder.
click Add to the archive.
Choose POST CODE under Archive format.
click to set a password.
Enter a strong password and check that ZIP legacy encryption Box.
click okay Enter password in the window and in the original window.
WinRAR compresses and encrypts your files automatically. The process can take anywhere from a few seconds to over an hour, depending on the size of your files.
How to encrypt files on macOS
If you want to encrypt files and folders on your Mac, MacOS lets you compress data and password protect it directly without the need for third-party software.
First, collect the files you want to encrypt in a single folder on your desktop.
Press command and room at the same time to open your search bar.
Look for "Terminal".
By doing terminal Window, enter the command CD desktop then press Enter.
Enter the command ZIP -e (ZIP-filename.zip) (filename).
Enter your password Enter password and repeat at Confirm Password.
Your operating system then encrypts your file or folder and saves it on your desktop.
There are other ways to encrypt a file on your Mac without resorting to the Terminal window. Use third party software like iZIP and BetterZip to do this.
Other important ways to secure your data
Encrypting a file or folder is like padlocking a room or box that you want to secure. On its own, this is a great security measure that can stop and frustrate most attackers.
However, if you stop there, you will miss out on many of the benefits of file encryption.
Vary your passwords
Similar to login passwords, the keys you use to encrypt your files must be different, encryption to encryption.
Use a password manager
When you're encrypting more than a handful of files and it's getting harder to remember their passwords, it's time to use a password manager. Preferably it is different from the one you use to manage your logins.
Share with care
Sometimes you may want to give someone access to an encrypted file that you need to share your encryption key with.
If you share the file online, make sure that you send the password using a different communication method than the one used to send the file in case it is compromised.
Protect your devices
With time – and the right tools – even the strongest encryptions can be cracked. Your first and last rule to the security of your files is to keep them physically and digitally safe.
Make sure you never leave your laptop or hard drive unattended outside and do your best to avoid being hacked by phishing emails or open networks.
Learn more about cryptography
Encrypting your files can be your first step in securing your digital belongings. However, this does not mean that the encryption ends with the use of generic software.
You can become familiar with the terminology of cryptography, the key, and the encryption algorithm. Understanding the different types of encryption is a solid way to ensure that you are using the correct one for your files.
Image credit: Piqsels.
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About the author
(11 articles published)
Anina is a freelance technology and internet security writer at MakeUseOf. She started writing in cybersecurity 3 years ago in hopes of making it more accessible to the average person. Lust for new things and a huge astronomy nerd.
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