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.
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
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
. 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.
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.