5 apps for encrypting and shredding files

If you want to protect sensitive data -- especially if you’re sending it via email or via an online service -- one of these programs can help.

shredded paper

While safeguarding personal and business data has always been important, the necessity for maintaining digital privacy has become even more vital as more of our records are digitized.

People are starting to realize that passwords alone aren't enough. Even with password protection, anything on your computer can potentially be viewed by an enterprising hacker. And if your computer is lost or stolen, its hard drive can be removed and connected to a new computer, revealing its secrets. To be safer, encryption is the way to go. These days, the accepted standard for encryption is the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) algorithm with a 256-bit key.

Once encrypted, there's only one way to get the original file back: Enter the correct password and the file reappears several seconds (sometimes minutes) later. Use the wrong password and you get nothing.

You also need to be especially careful when you get rid of a system or a hard drive. It's not enough to simply reformat the hard drive. As most computer-savvy users know, when you delete a file, all that is actually removed is the File Allocation Table (FAT) entry that the computer uses to track of what's on the drive. The underlying data remains intact until that part of the drive is overwritten with a new file.

A military-grade shredder, such as those that meet the Department of Defense's 5220.22M standard, starts by removing its FAT entry from the system's drive and then randomizes the underlying data on the drive where the file was stored. In other words, it's completely unrecoverable.

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