Encryption is a process of encoding information so that it cannot be accessed by others unless they have the key needed to decode it. Encryption is usually used to protect highly sensitive documents, but it's also a good way to stop people from looking at your personal stuff.
Programs reviewed in this category are for use in keeping personal information private in situations where you can't install or get access to encryption services. Essentially, you need a program that can be run in portable mode (not installed).
Further advice about how to use encryption are discussed in Encryption is Not Enough, including what you need to do beyond encryption to be sure your private data is not lost or exposed.
Read also Cautionary Notes at the end of this article.
A portable application and powerful file compression utility that provides 256-bit AES encryption.
Platforms/Download: Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: 9.2
|Our Rating: 3/5
A simple and standalone password encryption program to encrypt files and passwords.
Platforms/Download: Windows (Desktop) |
Version reviewed: n/a
|Our Rating: 3/5
Reviews of Related Products
The products reviewed above meet two criteria: They must run under a standard user account, and they must be portable, i.e., they don't need to be installed. However, there may be products that don't meet those criteria that would be suitable in your own work environment. The links below will take you there:
- Best Free File Encryption Utility has reviews of programs used to encrypt files and/or folders directly.
- Best Free Encrypted Virtual Drive Utility reviews programs used for on-the-fly encryption of files and folders.
- Best Free Drive Encryption Utility has reviews of programs used to encrypt entire drives, including partitions and removable storage media like USB drives.
- Best Free Encryption Utility for Cloud Storage reviews programs for client-side encryption. The ones that incorporate a virtual drive may be particularly well suited.
Other Related Products
Rohos Mini Drive creates a hidden, encrypted partition on USB flash drives. It enables you to work with the files on the hidden partition by using the "portable" program—which does not require administrative permission—that it also installs on the USB drive. The user interface is a pseudo Windows Explorer window, with a few encryption functions included. The learning curve could be daunting for some users.
SafeHouse Explorer is a very simple, free program that PC Dynamics released in 2009. It can be used as a portable program, and is small enough to use on a USB flash memory drive. The user interface is a pseudo Windows Explorer window, with a few encryption functions included. SafeHouse Explorer does not require administrative privileges. You'll find excellent tutorial videos and the users manual at the website, and a screenshot-rich tutorial here.
SafeHouse Explorer has not been updated since 2009 (version 3.01), and it appears there has been no activity on the website related to encryption since 2012, so I do not recommend SafeHouse Explorer for critical data or documents.
SafeHouse Explorer is easy to use, but it has a flaw that could leave your data exposed.
The problem is, you cannot create files directly in the interface. That forces you to create unencrypted files outside the volume, and then copy them to the volume. Of course those unencrypted files still reside on your hard drive. There is a "Secure Delete" function to securely delete external files, but you need to remember to always do that.
Fortunately, there's a way around that security hole. If you open a real Windows Explorer window after opening a volume in SafeHouse Explore, you'll find a SAFEHOUSE drive listed there. You can work within that encrypted window—create files, delete files, edit files, etc.—just like you would in any other drive. There will be only one copy of your files, and they will never be stored in unencrypted form. If you're careful how you use SafeHouse Explorer, it's a safe, simple program.
Operating systems are messy: Echos of your personal data—swap files, temp files, hibernation files, erased files, browser artifacts, etc.—are likely to remain on any computer that you use to access the data. It is a trivial task to extract those echos.
For example, when you encrypt and compress files, clear-text versions that existed before you compress/encrypt the file or clear-text copies that are created after you decrypt/decompress it remain on your hard drive. Unless you purge—not just delete—those clear-text files. :-(
The fact that an encryption program "works" does not mean that it is secure. New encryption utilities often appear after someone reads up on applied cryptography, selects or devises an algorithm - maybe even a reliable open source one - implements a user interface, tests the program to make sure it works, and thinks he's done. He's not. Such a program is almost certain to harbor fatal flaws.
Functionality does not equal quality, and no amount of beta testing will ever reveal a security flaw. Too many products are merely buzzword compliant; they use secure cryptography, but they are not secure." --Bruce Schneier, in Security Pitfalls in Cryptography
Special notes on TrueCrypt
TrueCrypt is the seasoned but abandoned predecessor to VeraCrypt. It once met my criteria for selecting encryption software. The developers of TrueCrypt dropped a bombshell though. It's complicated... TrueCrypt did pass a preliminary independent audit in 2015, but the dereliction of TrueCrypt now changes everything. For example, recent (September, 2015) vulnerabilities (which will never be patched) have been discovered in TrueCrypt.
Bizarre story behind TrueCrypt: The Atavist Magazine ran a special 7 episode series, The Mastermind, on the backstory of TrueCrypt and it's demise. [Index at Longform.org] It's a great read. Certainly more surprising than fiction. You can deduce a more plausible truth about the origins and demise of TrueCrypt from that series than from any of the many other stories on the internet. Scroll down to the bottom of each page to find the link to each next episode.
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