How to encrypt a file on any device to safeguard your data
January 04, 2024
You lock the door when leaving the house and put expensive items in a safe in a hotel room, taking these precautions to protect precious items.
But these days, you have more than tangible objects to safeguard, like sensitive data you wouldn’t want falling into the wrong hands.
File encryption is a wise way to protect information on your computer or phone, keeping data from cybercriminals like hackers and phishers. Here’s a straightforward guide on how to encrypt a file on any device.
What’s file encryption?
File encryption means locking a file with a password known as a decryption key. Only people with the decryption key can open the encrypted file. And, should someone without the password gain access, they still wouldn’t be able to view its contents. Encryption uses a complex algorithm to scramble data, making the content illegible to anyone without the decryption key.
What about data encryption?
Many types of data — not just files — undergo encryption. Organizations that handle sensitive data (like those in the healthcare, finance, and government sectors) often use encryption as a security measure.
All encryption essentially works the same way, scrambling data so anyone who shouldn’t have access to it can’t decipher it. The difference between data encryption in general and that of files is simply the application of this security measure. For example, instead of encrypting a file, a payment processor encrypts your credit card information so the recipient can’t see the actual numbers.
Why should you encrypt your files?
In 2022 alone, 422 million Americans suffered from cybercrime attacks like data leaks and breaches. Given the frequency of these incidents, it’s essential to take a serious, focused approach to protecting your sensitive information.
When a hacker compromises your personal or financial data, they can steal funds or your identity. And if you run a business, a cyberattack can expose confidential information, generate losses, and put employees at risk. Plus, you may get negative press that damages the organization’s reputation.
Encrypting files protects you and your company’s sensitive data from cyberattacks because criminals can’t view information without a decryption key. Even if hackers gain access to your devices or accounts, they still can’t see encrypted data.
When you send files to third parties, encrypting them is a savvy additional defense measure to protect the privacy of your information. Suppose you’re sending a quarterly finance report to your team that you wouldn’t want an outside party to view. If you encrypt the file before sharing it, you save yourself from the consequences of a potential misstep, like accidentally adding the email of someone who no longer works at the company to the recipient list. If that person were to try to open the attachment containing confidential financial data, they wouldn’t be able to, as only your current team has the encryption code.
The best way to encrypt files on any device
Complex algorithms back file encryption, but protecting your information isn’t complex at all — encryption requires just a few steps on most devices.
How to encrypt a file on Windows
Windows desktop users can use the following steps to password-protect and encrypt files and folders:
Locate the file or folder you wish to encrypt and right-click on it (or press and hold).
Check off Encrypt contents to secure data.
Select OK and then Apply to save your choice.
Click OK to finalize the encryption process.
Note: You can decrypt any Windows file or folder by repeating the steps above but unchecking the box next to Encrypt contents to secure data.
The steps above allow you to protect files on your computer, safeguarding them from a potential hacking attack. But if you plan to send an encrypted Windows file, the recipient must enter a password to read it. You can password-encrypt a file for sharing with the following steps:
Open the file you wish to password-protect.
Go to File, then Info.
Select Protect Document, then Encrypt with Password.
Set and confirm your password.
Save the file to complete the password-protection process.
How to encrypt a file on Mac
Mac devices only allow for folder encryption. It’s straightforward to encrypt a folder you’ve already made, but if you only want to protect a single file, you’ll have to put it in its own folder before starting. Then, you can encrypt using the following steps:
Hit the command key and spacebar to bring up the spotlight search feature.
Search for Disk Utility and open it.
Click on File from the menu bar at the top of the page.
Click New Image, then Image from Folder.
Select the folder to encrypt and click Choose.
Select the encryption type (128-bit or 256-bit). Both are secure, but the 256-bit option is stronger and will take longer to encrypt.
Enter and confirm the encryption password of your choice in the pop-up window. Click Select.
After setting the password, you’ll return to the previous window. Click Save.
How to encrypt a file on Android
You’ll need third-party software to encrypt files on an Android — unless you wish to encrypt your entire device. Third-party apps will ask you to import the files you want to protect. This will save an encrypted copy of the file on the app’s drive.
Should you wish to encrypt your device, use the following steps:
Open the Settings app.
Select Security and privacy.
Locate the Encryptions & credentials heading and tap Encrypt phone or Encrypt tablet.
How to encrypt files on an iPhone
iPhones also require third-party software to encrypt files, but the entire device is generally well-protected, thanks to the Face ID feature. Because many iPhones only open using this biometric security measure, anyone who isn’t you can’t access your device.
Should you wish to encrypt a single file, download a reputable app. Third-party applications for encrypting iPhone files ask you to import files, saving an encrypted copy to a Cloud drive.
Other file protection methods
Encryption is an excellent way to keep data safe, but a multi-layered cybersecurity strategy further minimizes risk. Here are a few best practices to regularly perform for maximum safety:
Create strong passwords: Protect your data better using passwords that are difficult to guess or hack. Never include personal information like parts of your name or birthdate in your passcodes, as even a novice cybercriminal could crack the code. Use random words and numbers, a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, and symbols.
Back up your data: Back up and encrypt your data on a Cloud storage or physical device, like an external hard drive. Encryption helps protect you from cybercrime, and storing your data in multiple places ensures you can access it should your primary storage location become compromised.
Stay informed regarding cybercrime trends: Read up on common cyberattacks, like phishing attempts and dating scams, so you’re on guard for suspicious activity. Cybercriminals use tactics like sending seemingly legitimate messages offering jobs, financial opportunities, and even love as a pretext for getting you to hand over personal data. The more you know about these cybercrimes, the less likely you are to fall into their traps.
Complete your multi-layered security strategy with IronVest
You can encrypt files and remain on the lookout for cybercrime, but certain security measures are best left to professionals.
IronVest’s AccessGuard™ uses biometrics and double-authentication protection practices to ensure that only you can access your accounts. And our comprehensive security features also include masked phone numbers, email addresses, and credit cards.
Get IronVest today to enjoy robust financial data, account, and identity protection.