When it comes down to it, the most important thing on your computer system is essentially the data contained on it. After all, it is this data or rather the creation of it that is the sole reason for you having the computer system. It’s the preservation of this data that leads to the deployment of various protective strategies. Applications and operating systems can always be reinstalled, but personal data, well, that’s unique, and once erased its lost forever.
Then there is the confidential data, this data is different from other data in that, not only do you want to preserve it, you also do not want others to have access to it. Exposure of sensitive data such as credit card details, social security numbers and bank account information can lead to identify theft, while company data may contain sensitive information on employees and clients, trade details and financial records.
Let’s take a look at some of the methods that you can use to protect your all important user-created data.
Back Things Up
Backing things up is without a doubt, the most important and most well known method of protecting ones data. How often do you back up your data? That typically will depend on work load and how much data you are willing to lose, in the event of a system crash.
Microsoft Windows has its own built-in backup facility (ntbackup.exe) that you can use to perform basic backups. To make things even easier for yourself you can use the Wizard Mode, which will simplify the whole process, allowing you to restore or create backups and also configure backup settings to perform automatically at specified times.
There are also many third-party applications that you can use for backing up your personal data. Whatever application you decide to go with, it’s always best practice to store a copy of your data offline, in order to protect it from natural disasters that could potentially destroy said data.
There are a number of word processing applications such as Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat that allow you to set individual passwords for the documents you create through them. In the case of Microsoft Word, you can secure a document by doing the following:
1. First, load up Microsoft Word, and then open the document that you would like to password protect.
2. Then click on the Start button (top left hand corner) and click on Prepare -> Encrypt Document.
3. An Encrypt Document dialog box should appear, simply create a Password and click on OK.
Note: People will now require your encryption password in order to access the document. Additionally, instructions may vary, depending on the version of Microsoft Word you are using.
That said, the unfortunate thing about Microsoft’s password protection tool, is that it’s not so difficult to crack. There are many password cracking tools that you can acquire that are designed to do just that. The kind of protection offered by Microsoft Word should be sufficient in deterring casual intruders, but will be fairly easy to circumvent for an intruder who knows what he/she is doing.
Use Built-In Windows Encryption
If you’re using the Enterprise or Professional version of your Microsoft operating system, then you should have access to certain encryption tools. Both the standard and home editions of Windows 8 do not come with these tools. However, the professional version has the following:
This tool allows you to encrypt entire volumes, including data on USB flash drives. BitLocker is very similar to TrueCrypt, so if you’re familiar with the latter, you should have no problems getting to grips with this powerful tool.
Encrypting File System (EFS)
This particular encryption tool, allows the end user to encrypt individual files and folders. In order to use this tool, the end user need only do the following:
1. First, right click on the file or folder you would like to encrypt and select Properties.
2. Once the Properties applet appears, on the General Tab, click on the Advanced Button.
3. This will load up Advanced Attributes, from here, click on Encrypt contents to secure data, and then click on OK.
This will encrypt the data to your Windows user account, which means you will lose this data if you forget your login details. Another thing to keep in mind is that this encryption only works on data stored on your hard drive, if you move data to your USB drive; the data will immediately become accessible to all.
Other Tools for Protecting Files
Old files and folders – An efficient way for you to protect old files and folders that you no longer access is to archive them, using a compression tool. When you archive this data, you will be given the opportunity to either encrypt or password-protect the data.
Windows Vista and Up – The latest Windows operating systems also come with their own built-in compression tool. However, unlike third-party solutions, they do not allow the end user to protect this data, only compress it.
Note: Once a file has been compressed, it is still visible to all who access the computer. If you want such content to be hidden, you should copy all compressed data into a single folder and set the attributes of that folder to Hidden. Alternatively, you can password-protect the folder.
Recommended Third-Party Tools
If you would like to password-protect your data, then third-party applications are the way for you to go, they are far more sophisticated and thus, more secure. Below are the solutions that I recommended:
7-Zip – This is a free file compression tool, which allows the end user to password-protect and compress zipped files and folders.
Folder Guard – This is a commercial tool that provides the end user with all the expected features, such as encryption, password protection, compression etc.
WinZip – Probably the most popular file compression tool out there. This tool is available as both freeware and as a paid solution, the paid solution grants the end user access to all of its available features, which may or may not be of use to you, depending on how to use your computer. That said, this tool does have tons of features and comes highly recommended.
Uchenna Ani-Okoye is a former IT Manager who now runs his own computer support website.