File encryption made easy

With some very simple encryption tools, you can have a system that doesn't give up its secrets

by Kevin Purdy - Windows passwords are all too easy to crack, and malware can give the wrong people access to your system. You need to encrypt your key files and passwords, but that can be a lot easier than it sounds with these very simple tools.

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Windows Vista and Windows 7 contain a built-in drive encryption tool, BitLocker, that's well worth exploring if you're using a laptop or otherwise might need full disk encryption. If you're mainly concerned about a few files or folders that contain financial data, long passwords, or other sensitive material, you should look at EncryptOnClick Freeware. It sells itself on two main points. It's fairly strong encryption for a consumer product -- 256-bit AES, in fact -- and it has a very simple interface with just six buttons, only four of which you really use. Click "File" or "Folder" on the left-hand Encrypt side and give the app the material you want to protect, along with a long, secure password that has numbers, characters you have to hit shift for, and random letters or words not commonly found in the dictionary. When you need to get back to that file, launch EncryptOnClick again, and hit the "File" or "Folder" button on the right-hand side, then point it at those files you locked away, and provide a password. If you've got a Mac, SecureFiles is a similarly simple and elegant encryption tool.

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Now you've got password-protected files, but what about that password? And what about all your web passwords in general? Many web browsers offer to save your passwords for you, and some even offer a "master password" to protect them all. That's still not all that secure. For a convenient password management system that works on any computer, and any browser, LastPass fits the bill. Your passwords are encrypted but not on your physical computer, which is a nice layer of safety in itself, and LastPass' add-ons for Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Google Chrome can be set up to require a similar "master password" -- the only one you'll really need to memorize, or stash deep in your wallet. If you're on any other browser, or a computer other than your own, LastPass lets you log in and grab a bookmarklet to stash on your bookmark toolbar that can automatically fill in passwords or forms, provided you're logged in. Its Windows software can even help find insecure passwords stashed on your system. If you're interested in signing up, or finding out more about the services' own "Host-proof hosting" security, read up on their technology.

Voila! You've got a system that doesn't give up its secrets, and you didn't have to spend your weekend figuring out how to get it that way.

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