Encryption for the masses

Blog Author: Aaron Smith | August 26th, 2013


With all the talk about security and snooping in relation to the revelations about the US government PRISM program one very valid question is, how do I actually go about protecting my information from prying eyes?

The first rule to learn about our interconnected world is ‘trust no one’. This isn’t meant to be a statement of paranoia, it simply means that if you want to be 100% sure about your security you need to take responsibility yourself and understand what security is about.

Perhaps a good example that illustrates this is the use of web based storage like Microsoft SkyDrive, Google Drive or Dropbox. Information saved here maybe encrypted but it is encrypted by the provider. That means they potentially have the keys to unlock information if the government or law enforcement agencies require it. If you want to avoid this then you need to typically control the encryption yourself and encrypt your information before it is sent to the Internet.

You need to also appreciate as with any increased security, you do lose some functionality when you elect to encrypt. Thus, to prevent prying eyes accessing your data you’ll need to firstly encrypt and upload and then download and unencrypt to use it again. This is certainly far less convenient that uploading and downloading directly but that is the price you pay for piece of mind.

So how can you encrypt your data before you upload it to web storage? An excellent option is Truecrypt. Truecrypt is free open source encryption software that works on a number of different platforms. Open source encryption is a very important aspect of the ‘trust no one’ ethos because the code that encrypts data is available to anyone to examine and compile themselves. Having such source code available to everyone means that the chances of some ‘special’ backdoor being snuck in to decrypt data is next to impossible.

Once you have downloaded and installed Truecrypt you can create an encrypted volume that attaches to your system like a USB key. When you attach this volume you are required to enter a password so make sure you use a good password when you firstly create the volume. With the volume mounted on your system you can open and access files as you would any other drive on your system.

When you have finished using the encrypted volume you simply dismount it and it appears as a normal file on your computer. If you examine the contents of this file all you see will be unintelligible junk. Now you can save this encrypted file up to your cloud storage with full security that no one else will be able to access your information.

Truecrypt allows you to configure encrypted volumes of just about every size, making it easy to transport. It also allows you to encrypt your whole hard disk, which is a highly recommended strategy for mobile devices like laptops. If you do ever lose or get your laptop stolen you really don’t want people having access to all the data that’s stored on there as well do you? For that reason alone, every device that you take away from your desktop, that contains sensitive data should be encrypted.

So it is possible to protect your information from prying eyes using various encryption tools. The recommended tool to do that job is Truecrypt because it is supplier independent and open source. However, whatever option you do elect to use remember that you cannot be 100% secure unless you ‘trust no one’!

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