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How to Encrypt Your Files

Tech Talker unscrambles the complicated world of encryption and shows you how to send encrypted files safely via the web.

By
Eric Escobar,
November 28, 2012
Episode #055

In an earlier episode, I went over how to send and receive large files over the internet. In the end of the episode, I mentioned that there are always some security concerns when sending personal files over the internet that you don’t want made available for the general public. One way to safeguard against this security concern is to implement encryption.

What Is Encryption?

But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a quick look into what encryption is and how it works. Imagine you are going to send a postcard in the mail. You go to your nearest mailbox and drop the postcard into the slot. What many of us forget is that anyone who handles the postcard on the way to its destination will be able to read exactly what you wrote. This is similar to what happens when your data is sent over an unsecure connection—anyone who intercepts the message has the ability to read it.

See also: The Dangers of Unsecured WiFi Hotspots

This definitely wouldn’t be ideal if you were sending something of a personal nature, would it? That’s where encryption steps in! Encryption basically scrambles your data, or in this case your postcard, to make it unreadable to anyone else unless they know the special key or password to open it up.

Encryption is used all over the internet for things such as online banking, secure file sharing, and pretty much any website that requires a password.

See also: File Sharing Law

Now that you understand what encryption does, you’re probably wondering how you can use encryption to protect your files when sending them over the internet. Luckily, it’s really simple!

How to Encrypt Your Files

There is a free program called TrueCrypt that will allow you to do just that. What I love about this program is that it works for every platform out there and is completely free. It’s also a small program and can install really quickly on your computer.

After you install the program, you can create a “New Volume,” which is the space where you’ll be storing the files you wish to send. Anything you put in the volume will be encrypted. You will set a password for the volume, and then “mount” the volume. Mounting the volume basically means you’re making it available to put stuff into it, and unmounting will lock the volume from any changes.

Once the volume is created, it will show up on your computer as a new drive while it is mounted. From there, you can transfer all your top-secret information into the volume and then unmount it when you’re done.

Now you will be left with a closed volume. This closed volume is essentially your locked digital safe. You can send this file over email, WeTransfer, or Dropbox and not have to worry about anyone intercepting it. Even if someone were to look at this file, they would have no idea what it was, how to open it, or what the password was. Just keep in mind though, that the longer and stronger the password, the harder it will be for hackers to break this virtual safe.

The best way to use TrueCrypt is to make sure that you, and whoever you’re sharing the files with, both know the password of the volume ahead of time. This way, you can trade files back and forth and the only way for someone to get at your files would be to try and crack your password. If you followed the advice in my episode on how to manage and store large passwords then you should be just fine. If you want to see how safe your password is, click this link to calculate how long it would take to break your password with current computer technology.

So let’s go over the 6 Quick and Dirty Tips for sharing encrypted files:

  1. Make sure both you and your destination have TrueCrypt installed in your computers and that you both know your shared password.

  2. Create a “New Volume” using TrueCrypt.

  3. Copy the files you wish to share into the volume.

  4. “Unmount” or lock the volume.

  5. Share the file over email, BitTorrent, WeTransfer, Dropbox or any other file sharing service.

  6. Sit back and relax knowing that your top-secret blueprints for a storm-proof bunker are safe from prying eyes.

Lastly, I want to share with you a great tutorial that I found to go along with this podcast that will walk you through all of the steps for creating your first encrypted volume. It’s really easy to do and will allow you to follow along step by step.

And if by chance you’re not a fan of TrueCrypt, there are some other great options such as 7-Zip, and Axcrypt that can also encrypt your files.

Well, that’s it for today! Be sure to check out all my earlier episodes at techtalker.quickanddirtytips.com. And if you have further questions about this podcast or want to make a suggestion for a future episode, post your comments on the Tech Talker Facebook page.

Until next time, I’m the Tech Talker, keeping technology simple!

Encryption image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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