Encryption is a process of encoding information so that it cannot be accessed by others unless they have the key needed to decode it. Encryption is usually used to protect highly sensitive documents, but it's also a good way to stop people from looking at your personal stuff.
Read also Cautionary Notes at the end of this article.
Most if not all of the programs below leave the user exposed to the non-obvious threats described directly in Cautionary Notes #1.
Provides secure AES-128 encryption of files with wonderfully simple usage.
Platforms/Download: [field_blackberry_download] | iOS | Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: 1.7.2931.0
|Our Rating: 3.5/5
A simple program using Advanced Encryption Standard to encrypt and decrypt files via a context menu in the file system.
Platforms/Download: [field_blackberry_download] | iOS | Linux | Mac OS | Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: 3.0.8
|Our Rating: 3/5
Related and Alternative Products
- dsCrypt works with single or multiple files. dsCrypt is AES/Rijndael file encryption software with simple, multi-file, drag-and-drop operations. It is tiny, easy to use, and employs proven encryption techniques. However, it is an orphan product.
- BCArchive offers an enhanced derivative of encrypting file compression products like Zip and 7-zip. It's from Jetico, which is based in Finland for those of you looking for a source that is not part of Five Eyes (e.g., USA). Jetico offers a range of respected encryption products, and BCArchive offers many of the same options as their commercial ones do.
- SafeHouse Explorer is a simple, free program that is small enough to use on a USB flash memory drive. You'll find excellent tutorial videos and the users manual at the website, and a screenshot-rich tutorial here.
- Rohos Mini Drive is a "portable" program that creates a hidden, encrypted partition on USB flash drives.
- Pismo File Mount Audit Package is a file system extension that provides Windows Explorer context menu access to special encrypted files that open to encrypted folders. Applications can write directly to these folders, which helps assure that plain-text copies of the original document are not left behind on your hard drive. Inconvenient fact #2 - The "clear-text" problem provides more details.
- 7-Zip Portable is a powerful file compression utility that provides 256-bit AES encryption for *.7z and *.zip formats, but the Pismo program above is a better simple encryption solution because it avoids the plain-text problem.
- Best Free Drive Encryption Utility has reviews of programs used to encrypt entire drives, including partitions and removable storage media like USB drives.
- Best Free Encrypted Virtual Drive Utility reviews programs used for on-the-fly encryption of files and folders.
- Best Free Encryption Utility for Cloud Storage reviews programs for client-side encryption.
- Best Free Encryption Utility for Personal Use at Work reviews alternative encryption programs that you can use in portable mode.
- Encryption is Not Enough offers further cautions on encryption, and on what you need to do beyond encryption to be sure your private data is not lost or exposed.
Primary Encryption Utility Categories
Why use categories here? To bring a little order to the large catalog of encryption utility reviews at this site. This particular review article is limited to "file (and folder) encryption" utilities in the first item below. Other utilites are reviewed in Related Articles.
- Encryption utilities that encrypt files/folders directly - the utilities reviewed in this article. These utilities encrypt discrete files and/or folders directly, in contrast to utilities that encrypt and store files in volumes (archives, i.e., container files). File-based utilities may operate in batch mode or in on-the-fly mode.
- Virtual-drive encryption utilities create volumes (encrypted containers/archives) which can be mounted in the file-system as virtual drives, complete with drive letters, e.g. "V:". These drives can contain both files and folders. The computer's file system can read, write and create documents in real time, directly in cleartext. Virtual-drive utilities operate in on-the-fly mode.
- Full-drive encryption utilities encrypt entire storage devices, e.g., hard-drives, drive partitions and USB drives. Some of the utilities in this category can also encrypt the drive that the operating system itself is installed on.
- Client-side encryption utilities for the cloud: A newly emerged category. These utilities encrypt files before they are uploaded to cloud sync/storage locations. The files are encrypted in transit and while at rest in the cloud. Cloud encryption utilities employ various forms of virtualization to present cleartext client-side, and they operate in on-the-fly mode.
Operating systems are messy: Echos of your personal data—swap files, temp files, hibernation files, erased files, browser artifacts, etc.—are likely to remain on any computer that you use to access the data. It is a trivial task to extract those echos. If you need to protect against access on your hard-drive as well as in transit or externally, this is a hidden access trap.
For example, when you encrypt and compress files, clear-text versions that existed before you compress/encrypt the file or clear-text copies that are created after you decrypt/decompress it remain on your hard drive. There may also be "Temp" files left behind. Unless you purge—not just delete—those clear-text files. :-(
The fact that an encryption program "works" does not mean that it is secure. New encryption utilities often appear after someone reads up on applied cryptography, selects or devises an algorithm—maybe even a reliable open source one—implements a user interface, tests the program to make sure it works, and thinks he's done. He's not. Such a program is almost certain to harbor fatal flaws.
"Functionality does not equal quality, and no amount of beta testing will ever reveal a security flaw. Too many products are merely buzzword compliant; they use secure cryptography, but they are not secure." —Bruce Schneier, in Security Pitfalls in Cryptography.
- Further advice about how to use encryption are discussed in Encryption is Not Enough, including what you need to do beyond encryption to be sure your private data is not lost or exposed.
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