What is data encryption?
On a basic level, encryption is one of the best protection methods available to keep all your digital assets safe.
The encryption process uses a key and an algorithm to transform the accessible data into an encoded piece of information which can only be deciphered by authorized persons.
Encryption helps you secure sensitive information from cyber criminals or other online threats and make access harder to them. At the same time, it’s a way that can be used to archive large amounts of data or to secure private communication over the Internet.
According to “The 2019 Global Encryption Trends Study” released by the Ponemon Institute, 45% of the organizations surveyed said they have an encryption policy in place to secure the most important data.
Both Internet users and organization can do that with the help of free encryption tools which can enhance protection by keeping valuable information hidden from malicious actors.
Encryption is essential to protect critical data, no matter if it is stored locally, on the PC, or sent over the Internet. So which are the encryption tools?
We’ve put together this list of free encryption software to choose from.
Before we jump to these encryption software products available for free, we outline the importance of always using strong and unique passwords for all your online accounts. When setting up your encryption process, you’ll be asked to choose a password as your decryption key.
Before you do that, make sure you apply these actionable security tips to manage passwords like an expert and make them more secure and unbreakable by cybercriminals.
- Set unique and strong passwords, which contain different characters, like uppercase and lowercase letters and numbers, and are more than 15 characters long. There are several tools you can use to test if your passwords are strong enough.
- Also, you’ll need to set passwords which are not easy to remember or guess, and aren’t used for more than one online account.
- To enhance your online security, you should not keep your passwords saved in text files or browsers;
- Never use/reuse the same password for more than one account;
- Do not share your passwords in emails, instant messages or other online platforms.
We carefully curated and put together some of the best free encryption software tools you can use to keep your most valuable data safe and secure.
Probably one of the most popular password manager tools out there, LastPass can be used for free with limited features, but will still secure your passwords and personal data. Using an encryption software tool like this one, you’ll no longer have to remember or note a password in a notebook or any other physical place.
LastPass comes with an easy-to-use and intuitive interface and can simplify things for you. There are extensions available for the main web browsers, such as Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. Also, you can use the mobile app available for both Android and Apple.
When you create a new online account, it offers the option to save the new credentials.
This tool encourages you to set a unique and hard to break password and discourages users to reuse it. If you’re using the same password for multiple accounts, it simply recommends selecting a different password.
Source: Windows Central
While there are many encryption tools available you can use to encrypt your data locally, most users prefer to use Microsoft’s BitLocker software. You can either use it to encrypt a particular disk partition or the entire hard disk.
BitLocker is a full-disk encryption tool built-in in the latest Windows operating systems (Windows 10), which uses AES (128 and 256-bit) encryption to encrypt data on the drives.
The Advanced Encryption Standard has been tested and improved and is now used worldwide by the most security vendors due to its high level of security and optimization.
Why you should choose BitLocker:
- Easy to use and it’s already integrated into your Windows operating system, so there’s no need to add another encryption software;
- It’s a free data encryption software tool you can use to prevent data breaches and data exfiltration from your hard disk.
- It encrypts your entire drive, which makes it impossible for malicious actors stealing your laptop to remove the hard drive and access your files.
- When BitLocker Drive Encryption is activated, and you add new files, BitLocker will encrypt them automatically.
However, as an encryption technology built into Microsoft, it’s been a target for researchers looking for flaws in popular tools used by people. That’s why a researcher was able to find a new and relatively simple way that Windows BitLocker encryption keys can be sniffed in less secure configurations as they travel from Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs) during boot.”
Another free encryption software tool you can use which is available for Windows, OS X and Linux operating systems.
Just like BitLocker, it supports Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) and can hide encrypted volumes within other volumes. It is an open source program which means developers and researchers can download and use the source code.
This encryption software is a great alternative to TrueCrypt tool and is constantly getting improvements and security enhancements. VeraCrypt 1.24, the upcoming next version of VeraCrypt is currently available for beta tests and can be downloaded from here.
The new version is expected to come with lots of security and functionality improvements to better secure users’ data.
4. FileVault 2
Looking to encrypt your data stored on devices featuring macOS and Mac hardware? FileVault 2 is a free encryption software tool we recommend checking out.
Just like BitLocker and VeraCrypt tools, FileVault 2 (FileVault full-disk encryption) uses XTS-AES-128 encryption with a 256-bit key “to help prevent unauthorized access to the information on your startup disk”.
If you’re interested in installing it on your Mac computer, this guide will come in handy.
Yet another open-source and free encryption software you can use to secure your internal and external drive, including system partition, and even ISO images, or USB flash drives or any other storage devices.
Just like BitLocker, it is a full-disk encryption tool for Windows OS and includes multiple encryption algorithms such as AES, Twofish, and Serpent. The interface is simple and intuitive, all you need to do is select the drive and click on “Encrypt” to protect your data.
Many users are not interested in encrypting the entire hard disk, but only specific files and documents that store sensitive information.
It’s a free and open source encryption software, as well as a lightweight solution known for its simplicity. This software tool is capable of extracting most archives and features strong AES-256 encryption.
After the critical security vulnerability that affected all WinRAR versions and other programs, a stable version of 7-Zip 19.00 has been released and can be downloaded from the 7-Zip site.
Similar to 7-Zip, AxCrypt is an open source file encryption tool offering both a free solution and a premium version for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS.
It features AES-256 file encryption and can efficiently encrypt one file, an entire folder or a group of files with a simple right-click. Files can be encrypted for a specific period of time or can be auto-decrypted later on when that file reaches the destination.
So, how can I increase my online security without creating too many barriers that may slow down my access to the information posted online?
Encrypting your files is not enough. To be one step ahead of cybercriminals, you need to enhance online protection, you need to make sure no one can eavesdrop on your communication over the Internet.
To make sure you always access secure web pages that use encryption mechanisms, we recommend trying a browser extension like HTTPS Everywhere, which is compatible with Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Google Chrome.
The extension was created as a collaboration between EFF and Tor Project, and automatically switches from unsecured sites using “HTTP” to secure “https”.
Using an extension like HTTPS Everywhere, which encrypts your communication with major websites you access on a daily basis, will make your online activities more secure from multiple online threats.
9. Tor Browser
If you want to access the Internet anonymously, Tor browser can be a great option to encrypt your online traffic and keep your browsing activities from prying eyes.
Tor Browser will block popular browser plugins such as Flash, RealPlayer, Quicktime, and others which can be manipulated into finding out your IP address.
It is recommended not to install additional add-on or plugins into Tor Browser, because it may bypass Tor and compromise your privacy and security.
The special Tor browser has been designed to be used by anyone who wants to conceal any browsing activity from prying eyes.
The most recent version of this browser, Tor Browser 0.4.0.4, is in the release candidate available for download, and it fixes several bugs from previous versions.
Remember this is not a stable release yet, but “packages should be available over the coming weeks, with a new alpha Tor Browser release by early next week.”
For those who don’t know, Tor is the short version of “The Onion Router” and directs your Internet traffic by encrypting the IP address from where it came.
Using encryption software like Tor will make it more difficult for your online activities to be traced by malicious actors.
Another way to hide your online identity is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) which can encrypt your communication and keep it safe from constant interception attempts.
This private network is able to spread across the normal Internet space, using its resources to create an encrypted channel and protect your data from hackers or the prying eyes of others.
It uses strong encryption mechanisms to hide your IP address, secure banking transactions, or keep yourself and your information safe when accessing Wifi networks.
A VPN software program like Cyberghost can be used when trying to connect to unsafe public networks or when needed to access content whose distribution is restricted to a certain geographical area. You can browse in a private mode from another country and get access to more than 1,000 servers across 50+ countries.
It includes a 30-day money-back guarantee for everything else and friendly support. A VPN service provider like Cyberghost helps you keep your data protected and secure your digital assets. Cyberghost works with Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, Linux or routers.
If you’re a noob and want to learn more about VPN industry, this beginner’s guide will help you learn more about its basics, how to choose a VPN, and more.
For privacy enthusiasts, here’s another VPN service you can use to encrypt your data and keep cybercriminals at bay.
Similar to CyberGhost, this one uses 256-bit AES encryption technology and the set-up is simple. Simply download, install and connect to ExpressVPN with a few clicks.
Compatible with multiple devices, it works on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, or Linux and connects to more than 148 locations in 90+ countries. It’s not entirely free, but you can use it free of charge for up to one month and get a 30-day money back guarantee. Source: VPNMentor.com
Apply these security measures to enhance your online safety
When it comes to securing your most important information, encryption is not enough. Oftentimes, in our blog articles and protection guides, we often emphasize the importance of using multiple layers of security to be one step ahead of hackers.
Since there are so many online threats out there and cybercriminals keep changing their tactics, we recommend following these actionable security measures to improve your online security:
- Keep your browser and operating system updated with the latest security patches. Make sure you have the latest versions running on your system. Online criminals spread malicious tools by using security exploits to take advantage of your system’s vulnerabilities. Patching is key, as the experts said it again and again.
- Be very careful when connecting to public and free wireless networks. One of the favorite methods used by online criminals to retrieve your credentials is to use wireless sniffers to access data you send over unprotected networks.
- Education remains the main key to better secure your digital assets, so we recommend checking out our free educational resources and signing in for any course that will teach you more about online protection.
When you think about encryption, have in mind the entire picture and know how important its role is in the overall security strategy.
What about you? How do you see encryption in the bigger picture of Internet security? Are you using any type of encryption for your data at the moment?