When you hear “encryption,” what do you think of first? Do you think of the World War II code-breakers at Bletchley House, recently made famous by a BBC drama and the movie The Imitation Game? Do you think of the recent legal battle between Apple, Inc. and the FBI? Or do you think of all those spies and law enforcement techies on TV who are able to break a system password in less than a minute, often by just guessing. (That is pure fantasy. Either that, or all those criminals and top-secret-security managers are so clueless, they’re still using “1234” as a password.)
Well, encryption is not just for spies and protecting industrial secrets. You can use it to protect important personal information on your computer and other devices. Sure, you have passwords and, hopefully, also a firewall on your home network. But malware can still sneak in and silently steal your files without you even knowing, or your laptop could be lost or stolen. If you use encryption to encode important files such as financial records, taxes, scans of your passport and birth certificate, or confidential work files, even if someone steals the computer or filches your files, they won’t be able to read them.
Some of your devices already encrypt information for you (hence the big dust-up between Apple and the FBI.) On your personal computer, you can encrypt specific files or get a program that manages encryption for you. Lifehacker recently published a good list of encryption applications, some of which are free, and InfoWorld has a great article on how to encrypt everything from your personal computer to your mobile device. You should also use encryption when you set up your home wireless network, so no one can tap in and monitor your communications. Here’s advice from the Federal Trade Commission about that.
On most devices, encryption is as simple as changing the security settings, and it gives you one more level of protection against theft, which is great. Because, as entertaining as all those spy dramas are, identity theft is not the kind of drama you want in your life.