How to encrypt your files and keep them safe

by , Technology Researcher Computing Helpdesk 06/12/2013
How to encrypt your files

Maybe it’s the Christmas shopping list you want stored away from prying eyes. Perhaps you want to keep your office documents extra safe in case your laptop is stolen. Whatever the case, the easiest way to get protected is by encrypting the relevant files and folders.

Some programs like Microsoft Word and Excel already offer this functionality. To encrypt whole folders and anything else you can download a free piece of software. We explain how to encrypt your files and keep them safe.

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1) Create the perfect password

An encrypted file is only as secure as the password protecting it, so don’t go using ‘password’ or ’123456′ to keep your personal documents safe. Especially when we’ve got a step-by-step guide to creating the perfect password that will help you no end. Essentially, using a mix of numbers, symbols and capital letters is key.

2) Encrypt your Office documents

Word encryption

Adding a password to any Word document is easily done. Just click on the File tab at the top of the screen, then Tools > Protection and Encrypt with password. Then it’s just a matter of typing in your chosen password.

3) Encrypt PDF documents

PDF encrypt

PDFs are similarly hassle-free to encrypt. Select View > Tools > Protect > Encrypt with password. You’ll even get a colour-coded indicator to show the strength of your password.

4) Google Drive and Dropbox encryption

If you’ve got any files stored in the cloud, then you’ll want to be certain that no one but you can look at them. The good news for users of Dropbox or Google Drive is that this is already the case. Google introduced encryption for all its cloud storage customer data in August this year, while Dropbox has used similar techniques to protect your documents for some time now.

5) For everything else, use TrueCrypt

Truecrypt
Still got files you want encrypted? You should download TrueCrypt for free, install it on your PC and then click Create Volume. If you’re not planning on encrypting a lot of files, we’d recommend making a ‘container’.

Next choose where you want the data to be stored on your hard disk, specify the amount of space you want your file to take up, and enter your password. Now you have a volume, you can store as many files in it as you please by clicking Select File and ‘mounting’ them. This may sound like a complicated process but it’s easy enough to get the hang of.

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9 comments

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Ned Ludd

Is it safe to use TrueCrypt with Windows 8? According to the TrueCrypt website, “Full support for Windows 8″ is “planned to be implemented in future versions.” At present, Windows 8 does not appear on their list of “Operating Systems Supported for System Encryption.”

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GAP

Encrypting using DropBox’s or Google’s own encryption is not a panacea if they are hacked – it’s only safe if you are in control of the encryption, so use TrueCrypt (or something similar) yourself before the file goes into the Cloud – besides, you don’t want Google to be able to read your files do you :-)

Graham

PS I recently read a very favourable review of Boxcryptor, which is integrated with the cloud services and encrypts/decrpyts automatically as you put files in and out of the cloud. It also works with Windows 8/8.1 after a small tweak to turn off Windows’ own encryption (applies to some versions of Windows 7 too)

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KP

How about on a Mac?

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easyrider

^^^ Exactly what I was going to ask.

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Algynon

How do we know that any encryption product can’t be decrypted via the ‘back door’ allegedly approved by our friendly national security agencies?

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trott3r

Only the inbuilt encryption from Microsoft has the possiblity to have a goverment back door installed.

TrueCrypt with an open source algorithm like blowfish cannot have the backdoor as the coding is peer reviewed.

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trott3r

I think Microsofts encryption is AES?

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marion armstrong

fab top tips Which – thank you very much :-)

In the light that I have recently received a flurry of 8 or so unsolicited emails from “Nat West” (not the high street bank of course!)….. Luckily I deleted each unopened, trotted into my local branch of Nat West & their Fraud Team dealt with the senders (of which there were 8 separate email addresses?!!!!)
Be forewarned folks – I was lucky……

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Peter Fisk

To answer an earlier question, TrueCrypt claims to be available for Mac OS X.

TrueCrypt has appeared to work well for me for several years on files shared between Windows and Linux. If my home networked drives or USB sticks get stolen, hopefully none of my most critical data will be readable.
One thing to check carefully though. At one point my HP Windows Vista laptop managed to remember my TrueCrypt password, so if anyone stole it, they could have read my encrypted files. I think it was one wrong click and some Hewlett Packard software that came with the laptop that did it.

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