Why You Should Encrypt Your Computer and How to Start

You’ve probably got some sensitive information on your computer, whether it’s banking information, a copy of your taxes, or photos of your kids that you share only with family.

Have you ever thought about what would happen if those files made it into the wrong hands? For starters, a thief would likely have the information they needed to steal your identity or access your financial accounts.

Encryption can help you keep all that personal information safe, and it’s not as complicated as you might think.

Find out why encryption matters and how you can enable it on your computer and other devices.

Why is encryption important?

Encryption makes your data indecipherable without a key. We won’t get into all the nitty gritty details here, but essentially, encrypted data can’t be read by anyone who doesn’t have the key (or password).

Encryption makes your data indecipherable without a key.

Once your data is encrypted, others can’t access it, even if they have your computer. This is important if your laptop ever gets lost, stolen, or left unattended for a few minutes in a coffee shop.

One of the biggest reasons to encrypt your data is that it lowers your risk of identity theft. With access to the files on your personal computer, someone could have everything they need to steal your identity and use your information for fraud, whether they take loans out in your name or get money out of your bank accounts.

What should be encrypted?

Here are a few things you should consider encrypting:

  • Your computer’s main hard drive
  • Flash drives
  • External hard drives
  • Your smartphone
  • Your online activity

Find the best computer encryption software

In most cases, we don’t actually recommend paying extra for encryption software. In fact, your computer might already include the software you need.

Encryption software for Macs

If you’ve got a Mac, FileVault is included already. Once you turn it on, you can use it to encrypt your entire hard drive. We always recommend encrypting your entire hard drive, but if you need to encrypt individual files, external hard drives, or flash drives, you should use Disk Utility. It’s also already on your computer if you have a Mac.

Encryption software for Windows

If you have a PC, your options depend on your operating system. If you have Windows 10 Pro or Windows 10 Enterprise, you’ll have access to BitLocker. If you have an older OS, you’ll need to find another option or pay to upgrade your operating system to a version that includes BitLocker. You can use BitLocker to encrypt your entire hard drive or external drives.

Free computer encryption software

We suggest using FileVault or BitLocker if possible, but if neither of those is an option for you, free encryption software is available. VeraCrypt is one of the most common, well-liked free options. It’s our first pick for free because it works with multiple operating systems (OS X, Windows, and Linux). VeraCrypt lets you encrypt either a whole drive or individual folders. You can download it and learn more about what it can do here. If VeraCrypt doesn’t look like it meets your needs, you may like AxCrypt or 7-Zip. AxCrypt offers a basic free version, or you can pay for extra features. 7-Zip is actually geared toward file compression, but it can also handle encryption. One thing to remember—free, open-source software can change on the fly, and it may not be supported long term. If you can get FileVault or BitLocker, we recommend it because that software has been supported for years and isn’t going to disappear on you anytime soon.
In most cases, we don’t actually recommend paying extra for encryption software... Your computer might already include the software you need.

How to encrypt your online activity

Computer encryption software can secure your online activity.

If you want to prevent people from snooping on your online traffic and activity (especially if you ever use an unsecured network at a hotel or coffee shop), we recommend using a VPN.

Our favorite VPN service is IPVanish because it is affordable and easy to use. Plus, it has tons of international servers to choose from, and you still get fast download speeds.

View IPVanish plans

How to encrypt your smartphone

If you’ve got a newer phone, encryption is probably already on, but it doesn’t hurt to check.

To check encryption on your iPhone

  • Go to Settings > Touch ID & Passcode.
  • After entering your passcode, scroll down to the very bottom of the screen.
  • If encryption is on there will be a message that says, “Data protection is enabled.”

To check encryption on your Android

  • Go to Settings > Security.
  • You should see an option in the menu for Encryption—make sure it’s turned on here.

Protecting your data isn’t hard

Encryption might have a reputation for being complicated and mysterious, but for many of us, encrypting data is as simple as turning encryption on with built-in software or using a VPN while we browse online.

Is your data encrypted? Check today!