Protect files on the PC from unauthorized access: Encrypt them

Best ways to protect your files no matter where they are stored

Windows laptop computer: Secure your files no matter where they are stored

Encrypt files in Windows 10 with a password and protect them from unauthorized access. Make sure you are the only one that can access them. Secure your files and folders on a Windows PC.

Security is a constant worry and while you can encrypt the whole disk in some versions of Windows using BitLocker, like the Pro edition, this is not available in the Home edition, which is far more common. Most Windows PCs sold come with the Home edition.

Even if you encrypt the disk, this is not the complete solution to making your files secure and you have to consider files you email to people. You might need to send people Word documents, Excel spreadsheets or images. If the emails are intercepted or if someone else has access to the email account, these files could be accessed too. You should send encrypted files for security.

Online storage like OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox and Box are brilliant and files can be accessed anywhere and on any device. But what about security? These services are only as secure as your username and password and these could be compromised, especially if you use them elsewhere. Don’t! They should be unique.

You might also worry about whether the online storage provider can see your files. You might want to encrypt those you don’t want them to see.

Here I look at some of the options for encrypting and password protecting the files on the PC’s disk, for emailing or for storing in online drives. Don’t let others see or access your files containing company, personal, private or financial information.

Encrypt files on OneDrive

OneDrive is built into Windows these days and is enabled by default with 5 GB of online storage space. A terabyte is more is available for paying subscribers. All your files are synced to the OneDrive folder on the PC’s disk.

If you are worried about files stored online being accessed by other people or Microsoft, if you are concerned that someone could access files on the computer’s disk, OneDrive provides encrypted storage called Personal Vault.

Micrsoft OneDrive personal vault

Double click the Personal Vault item in OneDrive on the PC and you can access a part of OneDrive that is encrypted and secured by two-step verification. Even if someone gained access to your OneDrive account, they could not access files in your personal vault.

There are a few extra steps the first time it is used to set it up, but after that you just double click it, authorize access using the Microsoft Authenticator app on your phone, and you have access to a secure encrypted storage area on OneDrive.

Microsoft OneDrive personal vault

The Personal Vault can also be accessed online in a browser at onedrive.com and you can drag files to it from the PC’s disk to store them. Only three files can be stored with a free Microsoft account, but they can be three zip files, which could contain multiple files. There are no limits with an Office 365 subscription.

7-Zip

7-Zip is a free open source utility for compressing files into archives. Run the program and you can browse the disk for files and folders. Select one or more items and then click the Add button in the toolbar to create an archive.

A window appears containing many options and one of these is encryption. There are a couple of encryption methods and the commonly used 256-bit AES is available.

7-Zip archive settings highlighting encryption

You should be aware that Windows will open an encrypted zip. It cannot extract the files it contains, so they are secure, but it will list the filenames, which could reveal more than you want.

There are many other options, such as the type of archive, which can be zip, or 7z (others are available, but only these two support encryption). Six levels of compression can be selected, from none to ultra. Files can be automatically deleted after compressing and encrypting them and a self-extracting archive can be created – a .exe file that can be clicked to extract and decrypt files.

7-Zip has a lot of features for working with zip and other archives, and it can handle almost any compressed file format. If you need to send encrypted files to other people over the internet, the compression features are very useful or making the files as small as possible. It is a bit clunky for working with encrypted files on the disk though.

EncryptOnClick

EncryptOnClick is a simple free utility from 2BrightSparks that makes it easy to encrypt and decrypt files on Windows PCs. It uses 256-bit AES encryption and it can work with individual files or folders containing many files.

EncryptOnClick freeware encryption utility for Windows PC

When the program is run, it displays a small window with basic features to encrypt or decrypt files or folders. Most of the time it is not needed because you can simply right click files on the desktop or in an Explorer window and select Encrypt with EncryptOnClick.

One file or several can be selected by Ctrl+clicking each one or clicking the first and then Shift+clicking the last. Right click and they can be encrypted. The original files are automatically deleted by default, but there is an option to keep them if you want. This could be useful if you are emailing an encrypted file to someone, but want to keep the original yourself.

The filename can also be encrypted so no-one can tell what the file is, like text, image, audio. A very small amount of compress is applied. It isn’t much, but the encrypted files are very slightly smaller than the original.

The program can be run to select files or folders to decrypt, but it is easier to right click them in Explorer. It is not obvious, but the Encrypt with EncryptOnClick actually decrypts a file if it is already encrypted. It is more of a toggle, encrypting if unencrypted, decrypting if encrypted.

Out of curiosity, I renamed an encrypted .EOC file to zip and double clicked it. Windows opened it. No files could be accessed because they are encrypted, but basically EncryptOnClick is a simplification of 7-Zip’s compression and encryption feature. It is much easier to use when all you need is encryption and don’t want to be bothered with all the archiving settings.

VeraCrypt

VeraCrypt is a different type of encryption utility and instead of encrypting files, it creates encrypted virtual disk drives. It can encrypt real drives and partitions, but a virtual drive has advantages.

VeraCrypt is excellent for people that want to work with encrypted files, loading and saving them from applications on their computer. You can open encrypted documents, photos, text files, music, videos and other files just like unencrypted files on the disk. VeraCrypt is not useful for encrypting files for emailing or using a messenger.

VeraCrypt open source encryption utility for Windows PC

Using the Volume Creation Wizard on the Tools menu enables an encrypted file container to be created. It asks what size it should be and it can be any size, with options in MB, GB and TB. There is a choice of 15 encryption methods, which includes the popular 256-bit AES and many others.

Follow through the wizard and the result is a file on disk. VeraCrypt then enables this to be mounted as if it was a drive and you assign a drive letter like G, H, M or any other unused drive letter.

One or even several VeraCrypt virtual drives can be mounted and they work just like real disk drives. Programs use the drives just like real ones, reading and writing, completely unaware that the files are encrypted.

Unmount a VeraCrypt virtual drive and the drive letter is removed and the virtual disk contents are no longer accessible. Everything is encrypted.

The ability to work with encrypted files as if they were normal unencrypted ones make VeraCrypt a brilliant and very useful utility. With no obvious size, file or folder limit, you are only restricted by the amount of free space on your PC’s disk.

More security articles:


Comment in the Forums Right pointing red arrow