A-Z of Computing: E is for Encryption

This month’s topic will probably be of more interest to business IT users and those for whom data security is a concern. Encryption is the best way to keep your information safe from unauthorised users. It’s a hugely complicated topic so what I cover below is really just skimming the surface.

In brief, encryption is putting your data in a scrambled form so that it can’t be read, unless you have the key to unscramble it. It’s very important to keep the key secure – if you lose the key along with the data, it’s like locking your front door but leaving the key in the lock. If you forget the key, it’s like locking the front door and throwing the key away!

GMT Solutions: E is for EncryptionYou may want to encrypt your data when at rest on your hard drive – one of the best tools for this is PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) – it’s fairly straightforward to set up and use. PGP will only encrypt the folder/folders that you tell it to. VeraCrypt is another highly rated tool, that is free, and works on PCs, Macs and Linux. Microsoft included an encryption feature with Windows from Vista onwards – but it’s only available on Professional editions and above. BitLocker will encrypt your entire hard drive – to turn it on, simply go to the Control Panel and BitLocker Drive Encryption then follow the instructions.  You can also use it to encrypt USB or portable hard drives, which are at greater risk of being lost. If someone finds the drive, they won’t be able to read the data without your personal key. Whatever tool you use, I highly recommend backing up the key, as if you lose it, the files will remain encrypted

You can also buy USB flash drives that come pre-encrypted and require the entry of a password, or a correct fingerprint scan to decrypt the data. They don’t require any additional software, and help to protect information on easily lost items.

If you’re encrypting, don’t forget about your backup. You can just backup the encrypted files, but again if you lose your key, the backup is useless. Some professional backup services such as Amazon S3 will backup your data in encrypted form, and also encrypt it during transit to and from their server.

If you have any questions about encryption, data security, or anything else IT related, please contact us on [email protected].