Maximum security: Essential tools for everyday encryption

Thanks to technical advances and increased adoption, securing your data and communications is a lot easier than you might think

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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.

Some software suites have encryption tools built in for you to use. Microsoft has included encryption tools in the Info tab under the File menu since Office 2010. Adobe Acrobat Pro X includes the option under the Protect section in the Tools tab. In both cases, the file is encrypted and decrypted with a password, so make sure to select a very complicated one, and keep it separate from the file itself.

If you frequently send Zip files and don’t want to make recipients jump through hoops to generate a MiniLock public key or install special software, the 7-Zip file archiving utility may be for you. While its primary purpose is to compress and decompress large files and folders, it can also turn individual files into encrypted volumes using 256-bit AES encryption. When creating the archive, assign a password, and the utility will take care of the encryption. The recipient only needs to know the password to decrypt the volume. It’s the easiest way to use encryption without confusing people who may not feel comfortable creating public keys or don’t want to sign up for yet another service.

User adoption is key

Encryption helps keep our communications with our banks private from criminals interested in stealing our money. It keeps our health records safe when they are transferred from one server to another. It prevents others from spying our credit card numbers when we are shopping online. Yet governments will continue to push back against encryption technologies in pursuit of backdoors by pointing to criminal activity and communications online -- regardless of whether they were conducted using encrypted channels.

What governments and law enforcement agencies are missing is that encryption benefits everyone, not only terrorists and criminals. Even governments rely on encryption to keep their secrets, after all.

While encryption technologies advance, becoming easier to implement, and default standards for encryption begin to fall into place, the best thing we can do is begin to use encryption tools in our daily computing lives. Too much depends on our right to privacy and security not to.

This story, "Maximum security: Essential tools for everyday encryption" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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