FREE: Encryption Tools to Protect Your Data

Category: Email , Privacy , Social-Networking

With the U.S. government ignoring the 4th Amendment, data breaches in the news every week, and identity thieves everywhere, more and more people are wondering how to protect their data and personal information. The answer is encryption, and it's no longer rocket science. Here's what you need to know about using encryption...

Use Encryption to Protect Your Privacy

Encryption is the last barrier between your personal business and other people’s noses. The good news is that free, high-security encryption tools are widely available, and they're easier to use than ever. But it does take a bit of extra effort to make them part of your secure communications and data storage.

With the government snooping into our phone records, emails and who knows what else, it may be time to trade some convenience for greater security.

I have written about encrypting local hard drives and removable storage media with free software such as TrueCrypt and SafeHouse Explorer. These solutions protect locally attached storage devices that you can lay your hands on.

Encrypted Files

But lots of data resides in the cloud now, passing through and being stored on other people’s servers. Most service providers do not encrypt users’ data and even if they do, they can be compelled to turn over decrypted copies to government agencies. Thanks to so-called “National Security Letters,” your trusted service providers cannot even tell you that they have been ordered to surrender your data. See my related article Is Cloud Storage Secure? to learn more about securing the data you store online.

Your only defense is to encrypt your data in such a way that intermediaries cannot decrypt. That means encrypting your files BEFORE they travel over the Internet to cloud storage.

Government surveillance aside, service providers themselves may mine stored copies of your data for profit. Ads on user interfaces and offers received via email or social media feeds are tailored to your inferred interests by analyzing the content of emails, Tweets, Facebook posts, your web browsing history, and other stored data. If your data is encrypted, it can’t be analyzed.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you will get less spam or online ads; it just won’t be as creepily related to your online activity. So the choice boils down to "give me ads that are completely irrelevant and/or offensive" or "give me ads that are (sometimes) related to what I do online."

Encrypting Your Email

Email can be encrypted before it is sent so that messages stored on mail servers cannot be read. Microsoft Outlook has a well-hidden encryption feature that can encrypt individual messages or every message sent. Mozilla Thunderbird can encrypt email with the aid of addons such as GPG and Enigmail (https://support.mozillamessaging.com/en-US/kb/digitally-signing-and-encrypting-messages). But many people rely on Webmail rather than desktop email clients. A number of encryption solutions are available for them.

EncryptFree works much like an online translator. Write your message text. Copy and paste it into Infoencrypt’s online form. Enter a password of your choosing and click “Encrypt.” Copy the encrypted text generated by EncryptFree into your email form and send it. Communicate the password to the recipient by some means other than email. The recipient can use the password and Infoencrypt to decrypt your message. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it works with any email app. (I personally prefer to send the lid of a Snapple bottle by carrier pigeon, with the understanding that the message inscribed on the underside is our secret decryption password. Shhh, don't tell the NSA...)

If you're a Gmail user, SafeGmail is a free extension for the Chrome browser that encrypts and decrypts Google Mail messages on the sending and receiving ends. Mail is encrypted during transit and while it resides on Gmail’s servers.

Hushmail has been around since 1999, providing end-to-end encryption of email. It supports mobile platforms including Android, Blackberry, and iOS.

Encrypting Your Social Media Postings

Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social media posts can be encrypted using Scrambls. A browser plugin encrypts selected text before it is posted to the service. Unauthorized viewers see only garbage text.

Abine has an app that encrypts Facebook chats. The Encrypt Facebook extension for Chrome browsers enables secure Facebook groups.

Make sure the encryption tools you use employ the strongest possible encryption, or your data could be unscrambled by a teenager with a spare PC and time on his hands. Currently, AES 256-bit encryption is the standard to look for.

Your thoughts are welcome on this topic. Post your comment, question or suggestion below...

 
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Most recent comments on "FREE: Encryption Tools to Protect Your Data"

Posted by:

Raul
18 Jun 2013

Bob: I am in a quandary as to the actual safety of the data that one encrypts. If a person developed the encryption system, another person could develop a decryption system to crack the first. I recall hearing or reading something from a data security expert who posited that if someone or some agency wants my data badly enough, that someone or agency will be able to get it, regardless of the encryption. Now I know why we still need the US Mail. It's very slow by today's standard, but fortunately, most of our old-style correspondence does not get opened and perused. However, since that was SOP for the Soviet Union, it would not surprise me that our government would do the same thing. I'm beginning to think that the only way to keep anything secure is to buy a vault and store it in there. :) Thanks, again, for the wonderful service you provide your perusing public!


Posted by:

bob price
18 Jun 2013

I am not a big fan of password programs because to create a new list, you have to enter them one at a time. With hundreds, this can take hours.

I much prefer all my pw's in one simple text file, and then encrypt that file with a tough pw.

Encryptfree works perfectly for that. But there are tricks. Click the box to decrypt into word chunks and the into tweetable chunks. Otherwise, the encryption is one single line with no word wrap that goes on forever. One gigantic single line that is difficult to swipe and copy.

Then sent to myself, and no matter where I am, or on any computer, I can access my hotmail and all my pw;s.


Posted by:

Abinadi
19 Jun 2013

Hi Bob and thanks for the timely article. I am looking for a way to encrypt a single file on a PC which can then be placed into Evernote (as an attachment) and shared with all of my computing devices while also being stored on a cloud server. Do you know of something reliable that will do that other tan TrueCrypt?


Posted by:

Dave J
19 Jun 2013

Hi Bob, As far as keeping ones traffic secret from the government, I dont think that'l happen. When I was in the AF working for the NSA our operators would go after our own countries best encryption for practise and usually break it in a matter of a few hours. Really pissed off the Crypto Kids that were trained at Kelly. I don't think anything -we- can get hold of now is REALLY that secure.


Posted by:

sAMg
19 Jun 2013

Encrypted files, folders are a P.I.T.A. when moved to a new computer and you don't remember how, with what password they were encrypted.


Posted by:

Tristram
19 Jun 2013

Suppose I encrypt some stuff using, for example, TrueCrypt. Suppose it's 20 years later and I want to decrypt it, but TrueCrypt is defunct. Can I use some other software to decrypt?


Posted by:

TheRube
19 Jun 2013

Hi Mr. Rankin!

You always have a Treasure-Trove of fine information to dispense to your audience. You need to have your own TV show or at least one on YouTube (though your name has already been taken)!

I really LOVE TrueCrypt; have been using it for years and feel really confident in using it!
However, I have my suspicions about SafeHouse Explorer as I wrote to its founder (some years ago) and asked if there was a backdoor. He replied with a terse, "no" or something to that effect without elaborating (which put me off).

In addition, it has been rumored that Hushmail is actually a tool of a certain government-run agency which shall be nameless (at this time).

Just some thoughts . . . for now.

TR


Posted by:

Abinadi
19 Jun 2013

I asked a question yesterday (further up the line) and just came up with a perfect answer and I want to share it with others here who are also looking. The solution is SSE (Secret Space Encryptor) by Paranoia Works . It is cross-platform (Android, PC, Linux, MAC OS), and it handles all of the following: Message encryption; File encryption; Folder encryption, (including nested folder encryption); Password Vault; Password Generator; Clipboard Cleaner.
Everything is encrypted using strong encryption algorithm: AES (Rijndael) 256bit, RC6 256bit, Serpent 256bit, Blowfish 256bit/448bit, Twofish 256bit, GOST 256bit
The Android version is available through Google Play and the other downloads are available through the aforementioned website.
And best of all it is free, although I have voluntarily paid for it through a PayPal contribution.


Posted by:

Brother Tom
21 Jun 2013

Is that PGP (or GPG)?

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you wanna get all geeky about it, GnuPG (GPG) is the GNU project's implementation of the OpenPGP standard. :-)


Posted by:

Peter Harris
12 Jul 2013

With revelations now out that Microsoft has been providing the NSA with un-encrypted copies of everyone's emails from both Hotmail & Outlook there is no way people should be using or relying on ANY encryption tools provided by Microsoft or for that matter, the other email providers either. Encrypt your text and files on your local PC before you even copy it to a browser for sending via email.

Bob, you should remove the section titled "Encrypting Your Email" and replace it with encryption at the user's PC prior to doing anything online.


Posted by:

Michael
13 Dec 2013

Kinda late, but I have to go along with Tristram - what happens if I use a encryption program and it goes belly up before I have a chance to decrypt my data? How would that be taken care of?
Thanks!


Posted by:

sharky
09 Nov 2016

hi there Bob, boxencryter....is a good one for the cloud


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