How to set up file encryption on Windows and Mac

Ruth C. | May 28, 2020

File encryption is one of the most effective methods to keep your data secure. Chances are, you do have some sensitive information on your computer. You might store financial details, copies of identity documents or private photos that you don’t want to share. Have you ever considered that these files can end up in the wrong hands? Luckily, both Windows and macOS offer built-in file encryption tools that are free and relatively easy to use. Let’s find out why file encryption matters and how you can enable it.

What is file encryption?

Encryption refers to a process that makes your data indecipherable without a unique key. It works by changing readable plaintext data into an encrypted ciphertext. Only the owner of a particular key or password can decrypt it. Not only is the encryption capable of securing digital data, but it can also safeguard your device’s physical storage.

File encryption conceals individual files and folders that you store on your device. Hence, even if your computer ends up in the wrong hands, no one but you can access them. It’s a crucial security point if your computer gets stolen or hacked.

Also, file encryption lowers the risk of identity theft. If your device stores records, such as tax invoices, intellectual property documents, or other personally identifiable information, snoopers have everything they need to commit fraud. Reportedly, 2019 was the year of 650,572 identity theft cases in the U.S. alone.

How to use file encryption on Windows?

BitLocker is a native Microsoft’s encryption technology. It is available on Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1, and Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise and Education editions. Unfortunately, BitLocker isn’t available on Windows 10 Home edition.

By default, BitLocker encrypts your entire disk. However, it is possible to configure file encryption that would allow BitLocker to encrypt them individually. The technology uses the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) algorithm with the key lengths of 128 or 256 bits. Hence, such a file encryption standard is robust enough to protect users from even the most advanced attacks.

The setup process is relatively simple. All you have to do is enable BitLocker and choose an unlock method: USB flash drive, password, or PIN. Then, you can set a few other custom options of your own choice.

Here’s how to enable standard BitLocker encryption on Windows 10:

  1. Sign in to your PC with an Administrator Account.
  2. In the search box on the taskbar, type Manage BitLocker. Alternatively, refer to the Control Panel, select System and Security, and under the option BitLocker Drive Encryption, click on Manage BitLocker.

How to set up file encryption on Windows and Mac 1

  1. Select Turn on BitLocker and follow the step-by-step instructions.

How to use file encryption on macOS?

FileVault is a built-in macOS disk encryption feature. It uses XTS-AES-128 encryption with 256-bit, which makes the encryption extremely robust. This technology is available on all macOS versions dating back to version 10.7. Although FileVault is not mainly a file encryption technology, it conceals your entire drive, meaning that it encrypts all of your files at once.

Here’s how to set up file encryption with FileVault:

  1. Refer to the Apple menu, pick System Preferences, and choose Security & Privacy.
  2. Click on the FileVault tab.
  3. Click on the lock and enter the administrator name and password.

How to set up file encryption on Windows and Mac 2

  1. Choose option Turn On FileVault.
  2. In case of a lost password, choose how you want to unlock your file encryption vault. You should get two options: opening a disk with your iCloud account or creating a recovery key.

If you choose to create a recovery key instead of linking your iCloud account, you should keep it safe. Keep in mind that if you lose both – your iCloud password and your recovery key – your data will be unrecoverable.

In case you are still concerned about your privacy, we recommend using a VPN. It will conceal all your data transmissions and web traffic from prying eyes. Then, with your files encrypted and connection secured, you will not have to worry about surveillance or hacks.

Ruth C.

Ruth C.

Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. Interested in cybercrime, online security, and privacy-related topics.



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