There are several methods of securing data that resides in your computer. One of these ways is by using encryption. When you access an encrypted file or folder you will be prompted to enter the set password. This is necessary when you require a layer of security over a file that will be sent online via email or shared on a cloud service. Any user that gains access to your file will therefore have to know the password that you had set beforehand. This article will look at some of common methods of securing files and folders below.
Using Secure Microsoft Office Files
Microsoft Office offers a way to protect your office files by enabling you to encrypt them and only open them by providing a password. Office has used several encryption techniques with the latest being the AES encryption technique that started being applied with the release of Microsoft Office 2007. However, the versions of Office that precede Office 2007 use weaker encryption techniques.
To encrypt an office document, select Encrypt with Password from Info > Protect Document. From there you should enter a password that will be used to decrypt the file when you open it next time.
Encryption of Files and Folders Using TrueCrypt
You may use an encryption tool known as TrueCrypt. It will offer you the ability to encrypt volumes in different ways, namely:
- I. Encrypt volumes on a flash drive: TrueCrypt enables you to encrypt any volume that is on a writable removable media. This has the advantage of securing the files in the drive such that they would not be accessible by any other user in case the portable drive gets lost. TrueCrypt also offers you the option of porting its installation onto the flash drive so that TrueCrypt can be run from a computer that does not have an installation of TrueCrypt available.
- II. Create an encrypted mountable volume: TrueCrypt offers the ability to create a volume that can only be explored by decrypting it on mounted condition. On this feature’s setup you will be required to provide a password that will be used to mount the appointed file or folder as a “drive”.
- Encrypt the Windows installation folder: TrueCrypt offers an option to encrypt the Windows folder in such a manner that it is only accessible by provision of the correct decryption password. This means that any time that the system will try to access the system folder, a password must be provided hence restricting access to the computer on startup and on wakeup from hibernation or standby modes.
Using Windows Encryption
Windows professional editions – those Windows that are suffixed by either “Professional” or “Enterprise” contain built-in encryption capabilities. However all normal editions, for example Windows Home or Windows Standard, do not contain these features.
You can access encryption capabilities in Windows using the features listed below:
- The Encrypting File System (EFS): Windows offers a built-in a capability to encrypt files and folders. This can be accessed by selecting the file or folder in question from the Windows Explorer, then opening its context menu by right-clicking then accessing the Properties dialog by choosing Properties from the menu. In the dialog, go to the Advanced tab, then activate the “Encrypt contents” option. This option will only secure your files and folders while they reside in the hard disk. On transfer (for example, by emailing the file), this layer of security will be lost. On encryption, no password is asked for since the password that you use for logging into your account will be the one used.
- BitLocker: This is also another feature of encryption provided by Windows. It offers the ability to secure your files and folders much similar to the ones provided by TrueCrypt. It is a popular means for encryption in computers that do not have the EFS feature due to their limited Windows feature set.
The methods that are available for encryption are numerous with varying degrees of complexity and price. There are other means of securing your data from the casual computer user, for example, you can turn your file or folder into a system file or apply the hidden-file attribute. Although this takes the file or folder in question away from display, it can be easily re-displayed by a knowledgeable computer user. Hence, it is a means of creating an inconvenience layer as opposed to a security layer.
Using Encrypted Archives
Once available in Windows in the Windows XP edition, this feature has since been scrapped from the Windows feature set and you have to use other non-built-in software utilities to achieve the functionality. One of these utility programs is the 7-Zip achiever. It can be easily obtained from the internet since it is free.
Once installed 7-Zip will offer you the ability to easily pack files from the Add option in its toolbar or by selecting Add from the context menu of any file or folder by right-clicking it then choosing 7-Zip. This archiving program features the powerful AES-256 encryption technology. Once a file or folder has been added into an archive, you can specify an encryption password. All the subsequent files and folders that are added onto that archive will also be protected and can only be assessed by entering the set password.
7-Zip can save create an archive of nearly all of the popular archive types.