How to encrypt your files and keep them safe

How to encrypt your PC files

Maybe it’s a birthday 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 or individual files, you can download a free piece of software. Read on for our step-by-step guide.

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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. As a general rule the best practice is to think of your password as a ‘passphrase’ composed of multiple words, numbers and symbols. Follow our step-by-step guide to creating the perfect password for more details on what make the perfect password.

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) For everything else, use BitLocker

Do you still have files you want encrypted that we haven’t covered? If you are currently using Windows 8.1 then you’re in luck as Microsoft’s operating system comes with its own encryption software called Bitlocker. Don’t feel left out if you have a Windows 7 machine either, as Bitlocker is also available as a free download.

Bitlocker works by creating an encrypted segment on your hard drive – think of it as having a safe built into your wall. Any folders and file you place in the secure partition are locked away from those who doesn’t have access. The process to create the partition is relatively straightforward once you get the hang of it – use Microsoft’s extensive guide to find out how.

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13 replies

  1. 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.”

  2. 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 :-)


    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)

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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……

  6. 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.

  7. You say that Windows 7 users shouldn’t feel left out, but BitLocker only works on certain versions of Windows 7 (Ultimate and Enterprise). It doesn’t work on Professional etc.

  8. Bitlocker isn’t available on Win8.1 Home or Professional, so is a non-starter

    You CAN run VeraCrypt (free successor to the equally free, but discontinued TrueCrypt) but if you want to do full disk encryption of your system partition, you have to convert the disk from GPT format to the old MBR (with appropriate BIOS settings) – but it does work fine… You can, however, makes encrypted containers or even non- system (MBR!) partitions fine without hassle

    Open source encryption is likely to be far less vulnerable to backdoors than proprietary product as it can be independently reviewed anywhere by anyone

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