The theft or loss of desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets, USB keys and portable hard drives are all too commonplace these days. Much of the information stored on these devices can be used for identity theft and breaches of privacy. Indeed, in healthcare organizations alone, a lost or stolen computing device is the primary cause of data breeches, according to the Ponemon Institute.
“The greatest advantage of laptops and other mobile devices such as USB keys- portability- is also their greatest vulnerability, making them easily susceptible to loss and theft.” (Ontario Hospital Association)
Software encryption is a powerful and valuable risk management tool, whether in the business world or in the realm of personal computing. Encryption converts readable data to an unreadable state and is a sensible and economic way to protect your data.
Why you should use data encryption?
Encryption makes it difficult for an unauthorized party to access the data, source, attachments, and content that has been shared over a network or an Internet connection. Forming a security shield across your digital content, the encryption technology can cause significant delay in the exposure of that data to unintended persons and in this way provides ample time to save yourself. Moreover, most privacy experts agree that when hardware containing sensitive information is lost but secured by strong (hard to decipher) encryption, there is no actual loss of information.
What various types of data encryption are there?
If you are running Windows 8.1 Pro or Enterprise, the Encrypting File System (EFS) is already present on your PC. To encrypt a file or folder, open it’s properties dialog box (by right-clicking it), click the Advanced button and turn on the “Encrypt contents to secure data” checkbox, and then click OK. (The following screen capture is from Windows 7 Ultimate edition. To find out which version of Windows you have, see Which Windows operating system am I running?)
Once the folders and files are encrypted, these files are locked and off-limits to anyone else who logs on to your computer. EFS is practically effortless and invisible to the authorised owner of the encrypted files.
BitLocker Drive Encryption
Again, if you have Windows 8.1 Pro or Enterprise, then you have access to BitLocker Drive Encryption, which, when turned on, encrypts everything on an entire drive, including Windows itself.
However, if you don’t have a Pro or Enterprise (or Windows 7 Ultimate) version of Windows, then you will need to consider some third-party software options. They typically work by prompting you to create an encrypted container, which is stored on your device’s hard drive or other storage device. Anything placed into the container is encrypted and it will appear like a typical drive or folder but will require a password to access its contents. This practice will safeguard your private files from unauthorized access and in this way adds a lot of security to your digital data.
Here are some third-party encryption software options, some free, some will cost some money:
1. Cypherix: This company offers several solutions to protect sensitive data on any Windows PC, Desktop, Laptop, Hard Disk or Removable Drive such as USB Flash Drive, Memory Stick, etc. Their free version, Cryptainer LE creates encrypted containers (vaults) of upto 100 MB each to store any type of data. You can encrypt files and folders by simply dragging and dropping them into this vault. Additionally, it lets you create secure e-mail files that you can send to anyone. It also includes a ‘Mobile’ feature, which allows it to encrypt all media (including, USB, CD ROM etc). It works on all 32 bit as well as 64 bit versions of Windows.
2. Kakasoft: they offer several low-cost options to protect folders, USB drives and more.
3. 7-Zip: if you just want to securely encrypt a few files (social security numbers, tax information etc.) and keep them safe, then this free file compression software may be all you need.
Encryption is necessary in today’s technology-based, digital documentation world. If you have a Pro or Enterprise version of Windows, then you have some built-in options available to you. Otherwise, consider obtaining a third-party option to secure your folders, files and drives today.