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Maximum security: Essential tools for everyday encryption

Fahmida Y. Rashid | Dec. 15, 2015
Thanks to technical advances and increased adoption, securing your data and communications is a lot easier than you might think.

It’s also worth noting that your data isn’t only on your mobile device or desktop. Many of us rely on flash drives to carry files or share them with others. And external hard drives are used for backups and to expand file storage. These drives should be encrypted, too.

Encrypted flash drives are available from manufacturers such as Imation, Corsair, and Kingston. Plug the drive into your USB port and drag the file over. As simple as that, you’ve protected the file. Some flash drives also support biometrics. The idea is that if you lose your flash drive, the data on the drive is still secured because the only way to access the contents is by guessing the password (or breaking the biometric protection). There are also secure self-encrypting hard drives from vendors such as Seagate and Western Digital that you can use to back up data securely.

Protecting your files

While full-disk encryption automatically encrypts all files saved locally, it doesn’t address what happens when those files are stored elsewhere or shared with others.

Many cloud storage services, such as Google Drive and Dropbox, automatically encrypt files saved on their servers. But if the wrong person manages to access those files, there is nothing to protect the contents. Dropbox, Box, and Syncplicity all offer tools for businesses that let IT assign specific policies to files, but those controls typically apply so long as the files are stored on those services. The best way to make sure the files are protected regardless of where they are is to use file-based encryption.

A Chrome app called MiniLock makes it easy for users who are intimidated by encryption to encrypt and decrypt files. There is no signup involved beyond installing MiniLock from the Chrome Web Store. The app uses an email address and a passphrase (pick a strong one!) to generate a 44-character MiniLock ID, which serves as the public encryption key. Drag a file of any type, including videos, images, and documents, into your MiniLock window to encrypt it, specify the MiniLock ID of the user who is allowed to open the file, then email or store the encrypted file on a cloud storage service knowing full well that only the person with the valid MiniLock ID will be able to decrypt the file.

A startup called Vera is also addressing the need to protect files when they leave a company network or secure file storage. Users can set policies on a document, such as not allowing copy-and-paste or printing, not opening if it has been forwarded to someone else, deleting the file after a certain time, and encrypting the file so that only one recipient can see it.


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