How to Protect Your Sensitive Information

Heide Har      Tuesday, May 15, 2018

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You can call me insecure person; however, I believe our computer is not secured as we all think to store sensitive information such as legal documents, tax stuff, and other files.  It makes me take an extra step to keep all my information safe from prying eyes.

Protect your files on your computer.

 

    In the older days before IT, we used to store our files in a folder in a locked file cabinet.  In the same way, we need to store sensitive files on our computer because it is more convenient than hoarding stacks of papers and wasting the trees as well.  In the older days we used to lock our file cabinet with a key to protect others from going into our files, in the same way we would need to lock our digital files from thieves, hackers and etc. can’t access them.  I believe in having a regular username and password would protect me if someone got access to my device, to find and steal my valuable files with a free to obtain software.

    I also found storing my sensitive and important files in my USB drive, did help to reduce storage space on my computer, however one biggest issue was to make sure that I never lose the USB drive, or the USB drive gets stolen and I would have no back up.

    In order to truly protect my sensitive files, I found it is best to have encryption.  As this technology uses complexed algorithms to jumble the data for others can only see, however, I could only view the unscrambled version with my key password.  If there were anyone who tried to steal your computer, they would only see the file, but not the inside without the password.

    Both Macs and Windows do have built in tools that will help to encrypt your files and accept your user account’s password as the access key, that way you can enter your password easier and it can do a lot more to lock down your files.

 

 

How to encrypt your files on MacOs

 

    Many Mac users have it easy, go to System Preferences then click on Security & Privacy, click on File Vault.  This will encrypt your entire hard drive, to prevent anyone from accessing your files unless they know your account’s password.  I also found that it can encrypt external USB drive as well, you can right-click the drive where your USB drive is at then click on Finder and choose Encrypt.

 

In Windows

 

    It is more complicated, some PC’s automatically encrypt their flies by default, how you can find out is by going to Settings then click on System then About then scroll down to “Device Encryption.”  Some computer does not have this ability in Windows, it offers something similar called “BitLocker,” as you can access it from Control Panel then click on System and Security then Manage BitLocker. With BitLocker can encrypt your computer and your USB external drives.  It is useful if you want to move files between PC’s or to lock the date under another layer of security by putting a portable USB drive in a physical safe.

    However, there is a catch with BitLocker, it requires your computer to have a special chip called “Trusted Platform Module (TPM), not every PC’s comes with one.  And it also requires the Professional edition of Windows 10. If you have the Home version and your computer did not come with a Device Encryption feature, you won’t be able to use any of the built-in encryption tools.  

    A good thing is that you can turn to a third-party options VeraCrypt a free program for Windows, MacOs, and Linux that can encrypt your computer’s entire drive.  You can also use it to encrypt certain group of files inside it’s secure “container,” even though I recommend encrypting everything. If you encrypt your hard drive or put any files in the encrypted container, it would be wise to remember your password because if you forget it, you won’t be able to access those files at all and all will be lost.

 

 

Storing Files in Cloud Servers

 

    There is another option that I often do, to have easy access to my files on any devices and I also use the cloud servers to have my files as a backup in case my hard drive fails and for file sharing as well.  It is safe to store your files in the cloud; however, you would need to know little more about the security of the cloud service that you choose from.

    There are many popular file-sharing services such as Dropbox, even though you encrypt your data, it won’t make your file completely private.  The Dropbox service allows accessing files to do things like previews and allow other users to share and collaborate your files.

    There is another service SpiderOak One Backup, is in favor of added security for your files encryption, however, you are still giving them control over your files to their service.  And the service can choose who can read the flies and even change them, leaving you no control over your data they host for you. If you already have your data encrypted before using their service, they can only access your jumbled encryption but not the actual files you have stored.

    However, neither service will protect you if someone gains access to your account thru security breach or have your password, your files become freely accessible to them.  That is why I strongly encourage everyone to choose a strong, random generated password and turn on the two-factor authentication for every cloud service I use, with one authentication by sending me a text as well, that way I can catch the break-in instantly.  If you decide to use their service, you would be trusting your data to someone else with risk, if you want extra security I would suggest storing your files I VeraCrypt container and sync them to cloud storage. This way, if someone has full access to your account and the bad people would also need your VeraCrypt container’s password to access the flies.

 

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Sending your files to someone else

 

    Sending your files to someone else would be tough to keep your files safe.  The best secure way to send those files (vs the old way handing the file over in person) is to encrypt them.  Share only the encrypted version and have the receiver to decrypt them on their own PC. However, it is not practical because your receiver might not have VeraCrypt and then you have to ask them to install the whole new program just to read your files.  There is another route to send the document to a professional who regularly deals with sensitive documents like lawyer, or tax preparer, they may have a “secure file box” on their website where you can drop the data, however, you would need to create an account to use it as well.  This would be the best secure option. However, there is still an “if,” you will have to trust the person who is managing your encrypted cloud storage.

     If not using the secure file box, you can use the cloud storage service to upload the file by using the build in file sharing features to send your receiver a link.  This is safer than sending the files as an email attachment even though the receiver may not have a strong security. Sharing the file thru Dropbox would be a little bit safer since you would be using their https, so others would not see the files over the network and would remove your files as soon the receiver receives it and downloads, however, Dropbox can still see your files.

    It is your choice what you choose to do with your files and taking the chances, as this is the reality of this technology world.  At least you can keep your sensitive information with some security and pray that others do their part.

 

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