Having established what encryption can do, let’s get started encrypting. First, how to keep your files and folders safe.
How to encrypt plain text
Plain text is fine for jotting down notes, but it’s not appropriate for sensitive information such as a list of passwords, or your bank or credit-card details. However, many people use it for just such purposes: indeed, Chrome even includes a feature to export a list of your passwords in plain-text format.
Fortunately, there are numerous programs you can use to secure these confidential details to stop anyone reading them. One of our favourites is Cobbler, a tiny tool that encrypts your notes and is very easy to use – just run the software, enter a master password and type in the text you want to protect.
Another program worth looking at is Dalenryder Password Generator. This is a security tool that creates and manages passwords and PINs, but also includes a powerful Encryption Tool that can secure text.
Lock Microsoft Office files
You can password-protect Word, Excel and PowerPoint files directly within Microsoft Office. The process varies depending on which version of the suite you’re running, but if you have a newer version of Office, simply click File, Info and select Protect Document. You can make your file read-only (final), forbid editing, restrict access, add a digital signature and password-protect it.
As is the case with most encryption, when securing an Office file in this way, be careful not to lose or forget the password because there’s no way of recovering it. Anyone opening the locked file will be prompted to enter the correct password to gain access.
Create secure PDF files in Office
Microsoft Office lets you save documents directly to PDF format: just click File, Save As and select PDF in the ‘Save as type’ box. To encrypt the file at the same time, so that unauthorised people can’t view its contents, click the Options box underneath. Under PDF Options, tick the option to ‘Encrypt the document with a password’. You’ll then be asked to enter a password twice. This needs to be between six and 32 characters in length.
Encrypt PDF files using PDFill Tools
PDFill Tools offers a selection of useful functions for PDFs, including the ability to encrypt or decrypt your files.
It supports both Adobe Standard 40-bit and Adobe Advanced 128-bit encryption, and password-protects PDF files to prevent them from being printed, copied, changed, filled, extracted, signed or merged.
Hide and encrypt files and folders
You can keep personal files on your computer safe from prying eyes by using a tool like Wise Folder Hider. This free tool can hide files, folders and even connected USB drives so they aren’t visible in Windows Explorer unless you ‘unhide’ them by entering a password in the software.
Upgrading to the Pro edition for £19.32 lets you encrypt your files and folders, as well as simply hiding them, making it almost impossible for snoopers to access your private content.
Encrypt files stored in the cloud
Most people keep at least some of their important personal data in the cloud using online-storage services such as Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive. If you’re concerned about how safe your files are in these services, you can secure them using the excellent tool Boxcryptor. This is free for personal use and supports more than 20 popular cloud-storage providers. It’s available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Chrome.
Like Boxcryptor, Viivo encrypts your files before they are synced to popular cloud-storage services including Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive. It’s available for Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android, and as well as encrypting your files, it can compress them to save space.
Share your private files securely
If you want to send a private file to someone over the internet, you should encrypt it beforehand. There are lots of ways to do this, but Secureshare is one of the easiest. This website encrypts the file on your PC using 128-bit AES encryption before uploading it to the web server and generating a self-destructing URL and password.
Send both to your recipient (preferably using separate means, for extra security) and they’ll be able to download and unlock the file. You can select the number of times the file can be downloaded or how long it’s available for.
Encrypt compressed archives
Whether you want to encrypt a few files for emailing or archive a large amount of content for secure safekeeping, 7-Zip is an ideal tool for the job. Add some files to the free compression tool and enter a password to lock the archive.
The program can encrypt both 7z and ZIP files using powerful AES-256 or ZipCrypto (ZIP only) methods. The AES option lets you encrypt the file names as well to prevent people guessing their contents.
Next: encrypt private messages in WhatsApp, Facebook and Gmail.