With the recent news that the US government is gathering random private data from phone systems and internet companies, the need for adequate data security has never been higher. When you include the constant threat from viruses and phishing websites, it becomes clear that no aspect of our digital lives is truly safe or completely private. What options do you have to secure your data besides disconnecting from the net and living off of the grid? When all other levels of security have failed, encryption can obscure your data to the point that anything stolen or viewed illegally will be nothing more than gibberish.
So What is Encryption?
Encryption is the process of encoding or changing information in such a way that unauthorized people are unable to read while authorized people can. The process can be as simple as a replacement encryption that transcribes one letter or number into another by following a set of rules or as complex as today’s best encryptions that use large strings of numbers as a key and algorithms that use the key to transcribe data into an encrypted form. The idea, or purpose, is to add that last level of security to important or vital information.
Imagine that your computer is a bank and your information is money. There are many ways to access your money in a bank, such as talking to a teller in the bank, using the ATM, or even accessing your account through a web portal. All you have to do is have the proper identification and the money you need is available. However, there are things other than money you need stored in the bank and for that, you use a safe deposit box. This safe deposit box is inside the bank, behind a locked door, and is only accessible to the person with the proper identification AND the singular key that unlocks the safe deposit box. As you may have guessed by now, the safe deposit box represents encryption.
How Do I Encrypt My Data?
There are a number of OS-supported and third-party encryption programs and most will end up costing the price of a subscription or a flat purchase price. However, there is a donationware encryption program called TrueCrypt, which is well respected and relatively easy to operate on a basic level. TrueCrypt allows the user to create a “safe” or “lockbox” on a storage drive, or even the whole drive itself including boot drives, which is encrypted and only accessible using the created key. TrueCrypt also allows for the creation of “hidden” volumes, which require their own key inside of an already encrypted volume, for added security.
All of these processes are relatively easy to set up and administer, but the program also tends to become very technical when dealing with boot drive encryption. Lastly, be absolutely sure that the key to your encrypted data is stored safely and never lost, forgotten, or misplaced. Recovery of a missing encryption key is difficult and in most situation, impossible.
Ultimately, systems are only as safe as the weakest level of protection and relying solely on encryption without taking the necessary steps to secure your computer is only asking for trouble down the road.