Encrypting your files only sounds complicated. In fact, it will take you less than a minute (which is why I think it’s negligent not to do it).
By taking that minute or two, you will substantially upgrade your data security. Once your files are encrypted, anyone who tries to access your files without your username and password will be SOL. It shouldn’t take much more persuading than that, but here’s another try at explaining why it’s so important:
In Windows, search for “BitLocker” or find it in the Control Panel (you can reach the Control Panel in Windows by pressing Win-X).
Click Turn on BitLocker and follow the instructions. You will need to save your recovery password to a USB drive or print it out and save it. You will probably need to use it at some point, so make sure you put it in a place where you will be able to find it again. You will need to restart your PC, and then you can keep working while it encrypts your files.
If you don’t can’t find BitLocker and you are using Windows 8 or 10, you just need to add the Pro features. It’s easy to do and it only costs $100. From your Start Screen, search for “add features” and click on Add features to Windows …. Then click on I want to buy a product key online and follow the steps to purchase and enter a product key. Windows will download the additional features, and then you can turn on BitLocker.
If you are using a computer with an older version of Windows, the real question is whether you should upgrade your current computer or buy a new computer with Windows 10 Pro already installed. I go into more detail into this in my 4-Step Computer Security Upgrade, but it’s beyond the scope of this weekend project.
In OS X, go to System Preferences, click on Security, then FileVault.
Click the padlock icon to unlock the settings, then Turn On FileVault. You can allow your iCloud account to unlock your disk if you wish, although it is more secure to use a recovery key and store in a safe place. Either way, you will need to restart your Mac, and then you can keep working while it encrypts your files.
Living with Encryption
When we encrypted phones and tablets, I explained that living with encryption is basically the same as living without encryption. You will be able to use your computer exactly as you do right now.
The important thing to know about living with encryption is when your computer is secure and when it isn’t.
Anyone who is logged into your computer with your username and password or who is able to unlock your phone or tablet will be able to do and access anything you can do and access. As far as your computer and devices are concerned, in other words, anyone who logs in the usual way is you. To secure your computer or device, never leave it unattended without locking the screen or putting it to sleep. (Make sure it asks you for a password when you wake it from sleep.)
In some cases, you may want to take additional precautions. As long as you are logged in, your computer or device may be storing some information unencrypted in its active memory. This is true even if you put it to sleep. Data in active memory is hard for an attacker to get at, but it can be done. To be extra safe, log out before leaving your computer or device unattended for an extended period of time.
That is all you really need to know about living with encryption. Just put your computer or device to sleep (if you have a laptop, just close the lid) whenever you leave it unattended, and take the extra step of logging out if you want to be extra careful or when you will not be using it for a while.
Now, you can rest easier knowing the files on your computer are as secure as you can make them.