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A Beginner’s Guide to Encryption

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A Beginner's Guide to Encryption

We all have our secrets.

From minor indiscretions and bizarre fears, to serious sins and outright crime, every person on this planet has something they'd rather keep others in the dark about.

Even if you think you have nothing to hide, you probably still appreciate your right to privacy. After all, even someone with no secrets would feel uncomfortable being watched 24/7. (And when the people doing the watching are those with authority and power over you, it becomes even more uncomfortable.)

When it comes to the information you'd rather keep private, how much of it is accessible or discoverable on your own computer?

It could be a secret legal document, a novel you're writing you'd rather no one looked at yet, or some embarrassing entertainment you'd rather your family didn't know you were into.

Keeping your documents safe and protected on your computer doesn't mean necessarily mean you're trying to hide anything. In this digital era, it's just common sense.

If you've ever used Wi-fi, your browing history, transferred files, and email credentials could have been vulnerable to eavesdroppers. And even if you've never responded to a phishing email or volunteered to help a Nigerian prince reclaim his lost treasures, just opening an email can enable a hacker to gain information about your computer, leaving it vulnerable to attack.

And it's not just identity thieves who are after your data. The government may need to get permission to enter your physical space, but when it comes to your digital data, everything's up for grabs. You don't even need to be online for the NSA to be watching, since they may have already preinstalled surveillance software on your computer.

So why make it easy on all those hackers and spies?

Instead of leaving your files vulnerable to be read by anyone, you can encrypt them to keep them safe.

It's easier than it sounds; you don't need to be a technical genius or hacker yourself in order to encrypt your files. Just follow the steps below to keep all your secrets safe and secure.


A Beginner’s Guide to Encryption

The unfortunate truth about internet communication today is that it’s too easy for prying eyes to spy on you.

Whether or not you have something to hide, installing encryption software on your computer is the single most effective way of making sure your data remains yours.

Encryption: The Basics

What Is It?

Encryption is a way to protect information. You convert data into a format only someone with a special key may read.

What Is an Encryption Key?

It’s a string consisting of a certain number of bits. A 128 bit key consists of 128 bits. The more bits in a key, the more secure it is.

What Does It Do?

If an unauthorized person who doesn’t have the key accesses a computer or device where encrypted data is stored, they see only scrambled letters or ‘gibberish’.

How Does It Work?

To encrypt data, an algorithm is used. It works like this:

  • Plaintext
  • Key
    • Block Cipher Encryption
      • Ciphertext

What Is It For?

Personal security. Encryption stops hackers accessing your personal details. This protects you against identity theft and is especially important when using unsecure Wi-Fi networks.

How to Encrypt Data Stored on Your PC

Many types of encryption software are free and easy to download. As a word of caution, it is inadvisable to use TrueCrypt owing to a number of security problems with this particular program.

AxCrypt is a straightforward and convenient choice for Windows.

  1. Visit www.axantum.com. On the Downloads page, select the first file from the list.
  2. If you’re only after AxCrypt, uncheck any additional software it tries to install.
  3. Once installed, the program will ask you if you wish to register. It’s up to you if you’d like to be put on their mailing list or not.
  4. Right-click on the file or folder you want to encrypt. Select AxCrypt from the menu and select Encrypt to encrypt one or all of the files in the folder.
  5. Choose a passphrase. This will be the encryption key used to encrypt your data. Remember: the longer and more complicated, the better.

    Note: When opening your encrypted item, AxCrypt will ask you for a passphrase. Type it in and click OK. Don’t tick ‘Remember this for decryption’ as it will remember your passphrase.

If you are using a Mac, AES Crypt is an advanced, simple and free file encryption tool.

  1. Go to the AES Crypt website and download the package for Mac.
  2. Open up the zip file, un-zip it and open up the installer. Click Continue and install it as normal.
  3. If prompted, enter an admin password.
  4. Drag and drop the document you wish to encrypt into the AES Crypt app on the Dock Bar.
  5. Enter a password to encrypt the file.

    Your file or folder is now encrypted.

    To decrypt the file, simply enter the same password.

How to Encrypt Data Stored on the Cloud

Cloudfogger is an easy-to-use method for encrypting files saved to your cloud storage folders, such as Dropbox or SkyDrive.

  1. Head to cloudfogger.com and click ‘Cloudfogger Download’.
  2. Open the downloaded file and follow the install prompts.
  3. Once installed, open the program.
  4. Create an account by entering your email and a passphrase.
  5. Once registered, you can start encrypting. Right-click on the file or folder you wish to encrypt and select Cloudfogger, followed by Fogg File(s).
  6. Your file or folder is now encrypted. Click OK to confirm the protection.

How to Encrypt Your Emails

Virtru is a free email encryption service that will protect any Gmail, Outlook or Yahoo services.

It currently works as a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox, and also as a mobile app.

Here's how to install it on your browser:

  1. Go to virtru.com and select ‘Get Virtru’.
  2. Follow the prompts to install Virtru as a browser extension.
  3. Once installed, ensure the extension is allowed on your browser.
  4. Click Install Now to complete the process.
  5. When composing a secure email, activate Virtru using the top right-hand corner box.
  6. You can easily turn Virtru off in emails by dragging the switch to the left. If switched off, the box will change to grey.

    Note: All recipients need to do is verify their identity to read any encrypted messages – no installation at their end is required.

Another method of email encryption is PGP (Pretty Good Privacy). However, these require a bit more technical know-how. A good option for Windows is Gpg4Win, while GPGMail is recommended for Macs.

You don’t need to be a computer wizard to start encrypting, so why delay? As well as secure browsing, encryption gives you peace of mind that your data and personal information are kept exactly as they should be: private.


  • Using AES Crypt on Mac - aescrypt.com
  • AES Crypt Alternatives - alternativeto.net
  • TrueCrypt Is Not Secure - arstechnica.com
  • AxCrypt Alternatives - alternativeto.net
  • Encryption - csee.umbc.edu
  • How to Encrypt Email - digitaltrends.com
  • What Is Encryption? - hhs.gov
  • How to Hack-Proof Your Wireless Router -netsecurity.about.com
  • How to Easily Encrypt Email with Virtru for Free: Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, Yahoo - networkworld.com
  • AxCrypt 1.7.3156.0 - pcadvisor.co.uk
  • How to Encrypt (Almost) Anything - pcworld.com
  • Data Encryption - princeton.edu
  • What Is Encryption? - safecomputing.umich.edu
  • What Is Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)? - searchsecurity.techtarget.com
  • Storage Encryption Prevents Identity Theft - searchstorage.techtarget.com
  • Easy to Use File Encryption with Cloud Support - snapfiles.com
  • How to Use AxCrypt to Encrypt and Secure the Files on Your Computer - tiptopsecurity.com
  • How It Works - virtru.com
  • Virtru - virtru.com
KeriLynn Engel

About KeriLynn Engel

KeriLynn has worked as a freelance writer for various websites. She is an advocate for domestic abuse victims and has way too many hobbies.


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