There are many basic security measures one can take to protect the privacy of their data in both devices and online, however, if you’re looking to take it a step further, encryption is the ultimate tool to keep your information fully secure.
The way that encryption works is by simply scrambling your files and information to the point where they are unreadable by anyone without the proper software and password to access it.
Although we all handle tons of information through our emails, messaging apps, and devices, people in charge of particularly sensitive data, such as bank information, tax documents, private photos or any other type of files that must remain private, should be the ones most concerned. If you consider yourself one of these people, or you simply wish to be extra careful about your security, then the best thing to do is to encrypt and protect your data.
How to encrypt and protect your data
The way that you encrypt and protect your data will all depend on where it is stored, so, up next, we will go through each item separately and point you towards the best tools for each one.
Encrypting Your Emails
Our email accounts are one of the places where we are left the most vulnerable to a breach of data.
We use them to exchange important business information, financial data, and personal data of all sorts, so you should do everything you can to protect your email account, including strong passwords and two-factor authentication.
As such a vulnerable medium, it’s a wise decision to take things a step further by using an encryption program to render the content of your emails unreadable.
While the easiest and more direct option would be to choose an end-to-end encrypted mail service, such as ProtonMail or LavaBit, which are free to use and ensure anything that’s stored in your account is only viewable by you, you may not want to give up on your current email server so, there are other ways.
For Gmail accounts, Google has been providing free encryption for a few years, meaning that if you’re using the official Gmail apps or accessing Gmail through the Chrome browser, your email is already encrypted. However, said encryption only works if the recipient is also using Google apps, as once your email leaves the Google servers to land on an Outlook account, for example, the encryption is no longer applied.
In this case, plugins such as Snapmail work by not just encrypting, but destroying your messages 60 seconds after they’ve been opened. So, if you’re sending particularly sensitive information this option could work.
If you’re an Outlook user on the other hand, you’ll be glad to know it comes with a built-in feature for encryption, as long as you have an Office365 subscription. To set it up, first you’ll need to exchange digital signatures with your recipient so that both are able to unencrypt the messages. Once this is done, you can write your email and hit ‘Options > More Options > Message Options > Security Settings > Encrypt message contents and attachments’ once you’re ready to send it.
Encrypting Files In The Cloud
Cloud services, such as Google Drive and Dropbox, can be just as vulnerable as your email account because they could also get hacked. In this sense, the best way to encrypt and protect your stored would be to use a file compression tool that supports encryption and password protection features, such as zip, before uploading any files to your Cloud server.
Tools, such as Boxcryptor or Whisply, can also be used in integration with Cloud services, adding an end-to-end encryption layer to your files. Another alternative available comes in the form of encrypted storage services, such as Tresorit or Cryptobox, which already come with end-to-end encryption.
Encrypting Your Messages
While many messaging applications come with encryption, some of them will only add this layer of protection to messages in transition, but not in storage, leaving your data still vulnerable in the event of a data breach or account hacking.
So, the best way to encrypt and protect the data sent through your private messaging apps is to use tools such as Whatsapp, Wicker or Signal that come with end-to-end encryption by default. Telegram and Facebook Messenger also provide this option, however, it needs to be enabled manually before you can use it.
Encrypting Your Devices
Considering the security of your online data is important, but protecting your devices is equally, if not even more important. Phones, laptops, memory cards and USB drives all contain tons of important data that needs to be encrypted and protected as well, as they could easily be stolen or lost.
Fortunately, most desktop and mobile operating systems support full disk encryption. If you own an Apple phone, iOS8 and its later versions all come with encryption by default, as long as your device has a passcode. To make sure this option is working, go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault. If encryption is not enabled, this is the place to start. Apple can provide you with more information on its official support page.
For Android devices, every one of them running Android 6.0 or later is also encrypted by default. If your device isn’t automatically encrypted, you can find out more by tapping the Security link in your Settings app and seeing the available options.
When it comes to Windows, some PCs with Windows 10 have the Device Encryption enabled, but you must have a Microsoft account. If not, BitLocker allows you to encrypt your files in both PCs, laptops and removable media through nothing but a few clicks, while VeraCript is another good and free option to turn to.
For MacOS, FileVault is enabled on OS X Lion or later, requiring you to log in with an Apple account password and encrypting data as you use your Mac, saving all encrypted files to your startup disk.
Encryption For Internet Browsing
HTTPS sites provide encryption by default, and adding a strong password to your Wi-Fi network encrypts the data moving across it. However, if you wish to keep your internet browsing even more secure or regularly use a public Wi-Fi network, installing VPN will be your best choice, as it works by protecting your online activity and keeping it confidential to anyone trying to access it.
While using encryption to protect your information can be a powerful tool, this doesn’t mean you should skip basic security measures, such as keeping your devices, software, and applications up-to-date and with strong passwords.
As long as you keep your private encryption keys secured, this should be the best way to keep all your data away from those who are not supposed to have access.