Sunday, September 20, 2015

Encrypt Files or Folders in Windows: Free

With hackers becoming more and more sophisticated, most of us are worried about the safety of personal data. There are many options available to protect data but none comes close to encryption in terms of safety offered. There are easy to use methods that allow to encrypt important files and folders in Windows.

Encrypting files in Windows using the Encrypting Files System (EFS)

Windows offers an inbuilt encryption method called EFS to protect sensitive data from unwanted users. EFS can be used only on hard drives formatted as NTFS and on professional and premium editions of Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 8, Windows Vista or Windows XP. Home editions of Windows do not support this.

To encrypt files with EFS, follow these steps:-
  1. Right click on the file or folder you want to protect and click on Properties at the bottom of the menu.
  2. This will bring up the Properties window. In this window under the General tab, click on Advanced.
  3. In the Advanced attributes window, tick on Encrypt contents to secure data option.
  4. Click OK and Apply.
If the file is encrypted successfully, its name will generally be visible in green font.

If you encrypt files and folders with EFS, it would not change how you access those files and folders. You would still be able to read, modify and delete those files as long as you are logged into the user account that encrypted those files. However, other users from would not be able to do this. For example, if you carry the encrypted file in a flash drive, you would not be able to access it from other computers. To access it from other computers, you will need your encryption key.

Important : 
Make sure that you backup your encryption key when Windows prompts you to do so. It will be required in case you want to access the encrypted files from a different user account or from a different computer.

To back up your encryption key, click on the Back up now option in the pop up that comes when you first encrypt a file or folder. Then, click Next on the window titled Certificate Export Wizard. Enter a password for your certificate (make sure it is tough but also easy to remember), choose a location to save it, give it a name and click Finish.

In case Windows does not prompt you to back up your encryption key, you can back it up from the File Encryption Certificates manager. Since, EFS relies on your user account to give access to protected files, it is important to choose a strong password for your Windows user account.

EFS is relatively quick and hassle free but not totally secure as Windows stores an unencrypted version of protected files in the temporary folder (when you access them) which can be easily accessed by any experienced computer user. To overcome this weakness, ensure that you clean up your temporary files with the Disk Cleanup utility every time you access your protected files.
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