Encrypting and password protecting files and folders on my PC
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) - 8/23/07 4:48 PM
How would one go about encrypting and password protecting specific data files or folders on my PC so that in an event my machine is either accessed physically or through cyberspace intruders, those people will not be able to access or open those particular files. Any details or recommendation would be appreciated. Thank you for your time.
--Submitted by Mudiaga O.
Answer voted most helpful by our community members:
You didnt mention your operating system, but if you are using Windows XP (Professional and Media Center editions) or Windows Vista (Business or Ultimate), the first option is EFS (Encrypting File System). It is a security feature built-into the OS, enabling you to encrypt files such that only you can access the files by logging into your account. The benefits are that there is no third-party software to purchase/install, no additional passwords to remember, and no need to launch a program just to access or encrypt a particular file. Just right-click the file(s) or folder(s) in question, select Properties, click the Advanced button, and check the box labeled Encrypt contents to secure data. The initial application of encryption can take some time, but if you encrypt the entire folder any file saved or copied to there from then on will automatically be encrypted on the fly with little to no reduction in performance.
However, EFS is far from perfect. If you are logged into your account, no additional protection is available. (If someone takes over your computer while youre logged in they have full access, just as you did. Secondly, if Windows becomes corrupt you may lose access to your files, since the encryption is directly tied into the OS. Finally, tools to circumvent EFS are widely available for $100-$200, so anyone could crack your files open if they were willing to pay the price.
The second option is Bitlocker, a new feature of Windows Vista Ultimate edition. Its much more secure for even Windows cannot boot without the correct passcode, protecting not just your personal files but your OS as well. So far there are no commercial workarounds available and everything is done in the background, making it an ideal solution for those who worry about stolen laptops. Like EFS, though, its tied into the OS so if it becomes corrupt your files may be lost, and if someone takes control while youre logged in theres no stopping the unauthorized user. Plus, unlike EFS, theres no simple recovery option should you forget your passcode or have the OS go south.
The last option is third-party encryption software; TrueCrypt is one of the most well-respected freeware options while Cryptainer is my personal favorite. They both enable you to drag-and-drop your files into an encrypted folder, which can even be hidden from view of all other users, a feature EFS and Bitlocker lack. Theyre also completely independent of the OS, so you can copy the encrypted folder and take it with you, accessing it on any computer while keeping the contents safe. To top it off, no one can access your files even while youre logged into Windows unless they also have the passcode for the encrypted container. Considering youre not limited by your OS (Windows 95 or better will do, and TrueCrypt runs on Linux) or transportation choices (works on flash drives, CDs/DVDs, etc.), its a worthy trade-off for the lack of automatic, on-the-fly encryption.
And on a final note, be sure to keep your security software up-to-date. No matter how many layers of encryption and password protection you employ it could all be for nothing if spyware is installed on your computer, designed to log your keystrokes (including passcodes) and/or take pictures of your activities. PCTools' Spyware Doctor, Webroot's SpySweeper, and AVG's Antispyware are the top-ranked options to protect yourself against such, but there are many other options available.
Hope this helps,
--Submitted by: John.Wilkinson
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