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Data Encryption for the Home User

January 19th, 2011

data-encryption-computer.jpgIt has always been essential to keep personal items such as documents, credit cards, bank cards, and other sensitive information away from unauthorized users or potential identity thieves. Keeping these items on your person, in a wallet or purse, or locking them in your home or car are common ways to accomplish this. However, if that sensitive information is stored on a computer, simply locking it in your home or car may not be enough.

There may be files on the computer that you do not want anyone to have unfettered access to. Tax returns, brokerage or bank accounts, and online transaction receipts are just some examples of files that you generally don’t want to share with the entire world. And there is always someone willing to take advantage of your identity for nefarious purposes. Data thieves do not need to be in physical possession of your computer to steal your identity; there are malicious programs that can be surreptitiously downloaded onto your computer. These types of programs scoop data from your machine and “phone it home”, or worse, allow a third party to take control of your computer and sniff around for what they want. Firewalls and anti-virus programs may help, but since it appears that you authorized the request, security software may not block it.

This is where encryption software can help. Files that are stored in an encrypted folder are scrambled in such a way that they are not readable without decrypting them. Encryption makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to gain access to the encrypted information. This high level of data protection will give you peace of mind, and is surprisingly easy for a home PC user to install and use.

There are many available programs that provide encryption, and some of them are free. After you install them, you are guided through the process of setting up an encrypted space to store your files and choosing a password to protect that area. Some programs also offer the option of using specified files to unlock your data, obviating the need to create a password. The files that you specify for unlocking purposes can be any files that already exist on your computer, or you can create files specifically for this purpose. A benefit to this approach is that these files can be stored on a USB key that is inserted when you wish to view the encrypted area. The USB key becomes the electronic version of your home or car key. Just as you have a spare key to your home, it is a good idea to store a copy of the unlocking files on a separate key so that you have a back up in case the original key is lost or damaged. Also be sure that you do not change the contents of the files that you choose, as that would render them incapable of unlocking the encrypted area.

Another benefit of the file created by an encryption program is that it looks and behaves just like any other file on your computer. This means it can be moved or copied to another computer or removable media. The same key will unlock it no matter where it is located. Password protected files are movable as well; the only difference is that instead of using files for decryption, you must supply the correct password.

No matter which program you choose for encryption, you can rest assured that your sensitive information will be protected from unauthorized access. The most important thing to remember is not to forget your password or lose your USB key. Without the proper credentials, you cannot access your files either.

This article on data encryption for home users was supplied by Jeffrey Semich from Constant Content.

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