Understanding Data Encryption In Computer Security
Your data should always be encrypted. You may think you have no secrets and nothing to hide so why use encryption? Maybe you think that nobody wants your data. Most likely, this is probably not true.
Are you ready to show all of your photos and documents to strangers? Are you ready to share financial information stored on your computer to your friends? Do you want to give out your emails and account passwords to the general public?
This can be even more troublesome if a malicious application infects your computer or mobile device and steals potentially valuable information, such as account numbers and passwords, and other official documents. That kind of information can lead to identity theft, fraud, or ransom. Criminals may decide to simply encrypt your data and make it unusable until you pay the ransom.
What is encryption? Encryption is the process of converting the information into a form where an unauthorized party cannot read it. Only a trusted, authorized person with the secret key or password can decrypt the data and access it in its original form. The encryption itself does not prevent someone from intercepting the data. Encryption can only prevent an unauthorized person from viewing or accessing the content.
Software programs are used to encrypt files, folders, and even entire drives.
Encrypting File System (EFS) is a Windows feature that can encrypt data. EFS is directly linked to a specific user account. Only the user that encrypted the data will be able to access it after it has been encrypted using EFS. To encrypt data using EFS in all Windows versions, follow these steps:
Step 1. Select one or more files or folders.
Step 2. Right-click the selected data >Properties.
Step 3. Click Advanced…
Step 4. Select the Encrypt contents to secure data check box.
Step 5. Files and folders that have been encrypted with EFS are displayed in green, as shown in the figure.
Back up Your Data
Your hard drive may fail. Your laptop could be lost. Your smartphone stolen. Maybe you erased the original version of an important document. Having a backup may prevent the loss of irreplaceable data, such as family photos. To back up data properly, you will need an additional storage location for the data and you must copy the data to that location regularly and automatically.
The additional location for your backed up files can be on your home network, secondary location, or in the cloud. By storing the backup of the data locally, you have total control of the data.
You can decide to copy all of your data to a network-attached storage device (NAS), a simple external hard drive, or maybe select only a few important folders for backup on thumb drives, CDs/DVDs, or even tapes. In that scenario, you are the owner and you are totally responsible for the cost and maintenance of the storage device equipment. If you subscribe to a cloud storage service, the cost depends on the amount of storage space needed.
With a cloud storage service like Amazon Web Services (AWS), you have access to your backup data as long as you have access to your account. When you subscribe to online storage services, you may need to be more selective about the data being backed up due to the cost of the storage and the constant online data transfers. One of the benefits of storing a backup at an alternate location is that it is safe in the event of fire, theft or other catastrophes other than storage device failure.
Deleting Your Data Permanently
When you move a file to the recycle bin or trash and delete it permanently, the file is only inaccessible from the operating system. Anyone with the right forensic tools can still recover the file due to a magnetic trace left on the hard drive.
In order to erase data so that it is no longer recoverable, the data must be overwritten with ones and zeroes multiple times. To prevent the recovery of deleted files, you may need to use tools specifically designed to do just that. The program SDelete from Microsoft (for Vista and higher), claims to have the ability to remove sensitive files completely. Shred for Linux and Secure Empty Trash for Mac OSX are some tools that claim to provide a similar service.
The only way to be certain that data or files are not recoverable is to physically destroy the hard drive or storage device. It has been the folly of many criminals in thinking their files were impenetrable or irrecoverable.
Besides storing data on your local hard drives, your data may also be stored online in the cloud. Those copies will also need to be deleted. Take a moment to ask yourself, “Where do I save my data? Is it backed up somewhere? Is it encrypted? When you need to delete your data or get rid of a hard drive or computer, ask yourself, “Have I safeguarded the data to keep it from falling into the wrong hands?”
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