There are multiple reasons people would want to encrypt their communications. You’re trying to conduct business that you don’t want others to know about; or you’re a doctor communicating sensitive health information to a patient; or you’re a journalist trying to communicate with your sources. Yes, you have many reasons to be concerned about the safety of your data.
Encryption refers to the technology that protects your communications from being read by unwanted third parties. It scrambles the text of messages when you send them; they can then only be unscrambled by their intended recipient.
Many government agencies and rogue groups eavesdrop on messages as they are transmitted across the Internet. Encryption ensures that whatever they pick up is unreadable to them, because they are not its authorized recipient.
Encrypt your email
A hacker with your login credentials or a government agency with a search warrant can scan your emails stored on a server. Famously, the email of John Podesta was hacked and it exposed the corruption behind the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Clinton Family Foundation. In order to protect your mailbox from potential hacks, you can use PGP, a technique that encrypts your messages with a key that only you possess.
PGP is usually not considered very user-friendly, but it’s worth the added security. Alternatively, you can sign up for a secure email service such as ProtonMail, which encrypts your emails end-to-end.
A more detailed discussion of email security can be found here.
Encrypt your message apps
We use messaging apps every day for our work and personal communications, ignoring the fact that we are not protected against hackers. Server hacks and man-in-the-middle listening apps are two popular methods that can give unwanted parties access to your sensitive messages.
Secure messaging apps such as Signal, which feature end-to-end encryption, scramble your messages in a way that allow on the recipient of the message to read them. While there are several end-to-end encrypted messaging apps out there, Signal is by far the most secure because it stores the least amount of information about its users. A more detailed discussion of messaging app security can be found here.
Encrypt your devices
What happens if you lose your laptop or smartphone? Do you think they’re safe just because they ask for a log-in password? Anyone with the most basic IT skills can plug your hard disk into another computer and extract your files.
Full-disk encryption (FDE) automatically encrypts everything that is stored on your drive with a key that is only accessible to you, preventing someone with physical access to your device from accessing your files.
Software such as Symantec Endpoint Encryption offer full-disk encryption, but the latest version of most operating systems already have built-in FDE features. In Windows it’s called BitLocker, in MacOS it’s FileVault. Apple’s iOS 8 and later as well as Android Lollipop (5.x) and higher have full-disk encryption enabled by default.
Encrypt your files stored on the cloud
Encrypting the files you store on the cloud can protect you from unwanted access to your account. A simple option is to store your files in password-protected zip archives before uploading them to your cloud storage. However, the extra manual effort required to zip and unzip your files might be too frustrating.
An alternative is to use third-party tools such as Boxcryptor, which adds client-side encryption to most famous cloud storage services such as Google Drive and Dropbox. You can also opt for secure storage services such as SpiderOak One, which have built-in encryption.
Encrypt your internet traffic
While browsing the internet, make sure you only fill in forms on websites that have addresses starting with “https” (the “s” stands for secure). Sites with plain HTTP don’t encrypt your data and are vulnerable to eavesdropping.
If you want to go the extra mile to encrypt everything that comes in and goes out of your device, consider using a virtual private network (VPN). VPNs encrypt and forward all your traffic through a server in another geographical location, which makes it difficult to monitor your activities.
A software VPN that offers decent performance is Psiphon, a free-to-use tool that was designed to help people living under the censorship of repressive regimes. Psiphon can be installed on all major desktop and mobile operating systems.
Don’t forget the basics
Remember, there’s no such thing as absolute security, and encryption per se is not a silver bullet that will fix all your security problems. You still have to adhere to basic cybersecurity principles, such as keeping your operating system and antivirus updated and choosing strong passwords for your account.
Be Safe – Backup Your Data Regularly!
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