Financial data and other privileged information on a computer can easily be subject to intrusive viewing by those not authorized to do so.
Not many of us, it seems, bother to lock our computers while we’re temporarily away from the machine, creating a perfect opportunity for others to peek at our most sensitive and confidential files.
Quick tip: Press the Windows Key + L which, in Windows XP or Windows Vista, will lock your computer by displaying the Profile screen. When you click on your icon and type your password, you again have access to the PC.
Of course, it is not only those with physical access that can probe a computer for sensitive and confidential information. Internet malware attack statistics show, more and more, that this type of information is targeted by hackers/information thieves, for the purpose of identity theft.
Can it happen to you? The short answer is – you can count on an attempt. The reality is; there is no such thing as a totally secured internet connected computer. All internet connected computers are subject to attack.
To reduce or eliminate the security threat to your sensitive data, the most prudent course for you to follow is to encrypt your data. If you’re unfamiliar with data encryption; simply put, it is a process by which bits of data are mathematically jumbled with a password-key. The process makes the data unreadable unless, or until, decrypted by you.
The following are well tested, free encryption applications, that will encrypt your data and are suitable for a USB flash drive.
EncryptOnClick is a free program that lets you securely encrypt and decrypt files. The program is very simple to use, and features military grade 256-bit AES encryption.
After you have launched the application, simply select the target file/folder you want to encrypt.
Following the easy interface, type a password for that file/folder which will then be encrypted. To open the encrypted file/folder at a later date, you must type the correct password.
A very secure encryption and decryption method is used (256-bit AES encryption)
Files are both compressed & encrypted, which results in a smaller file
Will encrypt single files or all files in a folder
Very simple to use interface
Can be used on a USB key
Fully Unicode enabled so filenames in any language can be encrypted
Will encrypt, decrypt, compress, and uncompress files which can also be opened and decrypted using third party programs like WinZip 9 – provided the correct password is used
Will detect if you’re decrypting a file that is in a temporary folder, and if so, will prompt you to see if you would like to decrypt it into a different folder
Command line parameters can be used
Complete help file
Free technical support, online forums, knowledge base, and FAQs at 2BrightSparks
Tip: Use on a USB key by copying the files EncryptOnClick.exe, EncryptOnClick.exe manifest, ExceedZip.dll to a named folder on the USB key.
System Requirements: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
Download at: Download.com
TrueCrypt is an outstanding free open source software system, (one I have using for the last several years) for establishing and maintaining an on-the-fly-encrypted volume.
On-the-fly encryption simply means that data are automatically encrypted or decrypted just before they are loaded or saved, without any user intervention. No data stored on an encrypted volume can be read (decrypted) without using the correct password/correct encryption keys.
TrueCrypt uses 11 algorithms for encrypting private files in a password-protected volume. You can store your encrypted data in files, partitions, or a portable storage device such as a USB flash drive.
Once your encrypted files are mounted to a local drive with your password or key, you can manipulate those files, i.e. you can open, copy, delete, or modify them. When you have completed working on those files, you then dismount the volume and the files are then safely secured from unauthorized access.
Creates a virtual encrypted disk within a file and mounts it as a real disk
Encrypts an entire hard disk partition or a storage device such as USB flash drive
Encryption is automatic, real-time (on-the-fly) and transparent
Provides two levels of plausible deniability, in case an adversary forces you to reveal the password – Hidden volume – No TrueCrypt volume can be identified – volumes cannot be distinguished from random data
Encryption algorithms: AES-256, Serpent, and Twofish. Mode of operation: XTS
Ability to encrypt a system partition/drive (i.e. a partition/drive where Windows is installed) with pre-boot authentication (anyone who wants to gain access and use the system, read and write files, etc., needs to enter the correct password each time before the system starts
System Requirements: Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista
Download at: Download.com
My Lockbox is a freeware software application that allows you to do just that, and then password protect those files on your computer.
Other users will not have access to these files, nor will they be able to accidentally, or otherwise, view them or manipulate them in any way.
The protected folder (lockbox) is hidden from all other users and applications on your computer; including the Administrator and the System. The lockbox (protected folder), is impossible to access not only from the local computer, but also from the Internet.
Following the on-screen instructions makes this program extremely easy to setup and use. The lockbox location, password, and parameters are configured during the easy setup procedure.
After the setup is completed, the lockbox will be hidden and locked until you, as the user, enter the valid password. My Lockbox Control Panel allows you easily change basic lockbox parameters: lockbox location, protection status, and password.
The program is effective, easy to use and best of all – it’s free.
Very easy to use
Almost any folder on your computer can be password protected
Instant protection – no file scrambling
Lockbox folder is inaccessible even by the system administrators
Lockbox folder is inaccessible both locally and remotely
Lockbox folder can be protected in Windows safe mode
Hotkeys support – you can popup the Control Panel with a keystroke
Skinned user interface
System Requirements: Windows 2000, XP, 2003 Server, Vista
Download at: Download.com