For a long time, I've been recommending TrueCrypt as my favourite data encryption program for Windows. You may have seen a recent posting on our web site at http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-file-encryption-utility.htm which now recommends a relative newcome called AxCrypt.
As someone who uses encryption on a daily basis, I thought it might be a good idea to compare the 2 products and offer some advice on which is best for you.
To get the basics out of the way first, both TrueCrypt and AxCrypt are free, and run on all versions of Windows from XP onwards. They both comprise a relatively small download, and VirusTotal claims they're both free of malware (although see below for one minor, excusable exception).
As for the encryption, they both do their job well, using industry-standard secure algorithms. So you can be confident that any information that you encrypt will be pretty secure.
So are there any differences between AxCrypt and TrueCrypt, to help you decide which one to go for? Thankfully, yes. There's a major difference.
TrueCrypt is volume-based. It encrypts a whole drive at a time. You can choose to encrypt your entire hard drive (not recommended, because it's impossible to recover if anything goes wrong), or you can create a large encrypted file which the program them mounts as an encrypted drive. This works very well in practice. Create, say, a container file of 2 GB, and you now have a virtual drive which, once you enter the correct password, looks and feels just like any other drive. It's fully compatible with Windows, so any program which can save to drive C: can also read and write files to that encrypted drive. Once you dismount it, it becomes just a 2 GB file of unintelligible encrypted data which you can back up, send to someone else, copy to your Dropbox, etc etc.
AxCrypt, on the other hand, is file-based. It works on one file at a time. Right-click an existing file on your computer, such as a confidential document, choose a password, and that file is now encrypted. Open it with Notepad and its contents will be an unintelligble stream of random data. Open it with Word and AxCrypt automatically kicks in first, asks you for the password, and then loads the file into Word. So long as you get the password right.
Again, you can copy encrypted files to Dropbox, email them to someone else, and back them up, safe in the knowledge that they're useless without the password.
So, do you like the idea of a virtual encrypted drive, with all your confidential data in one place? A drive which, if you want to back it up to Dropbox, you have to copy the entire virtual drive each time? Or would you prefer to keep your confidential files in among all your other files?
It's actually a difficult call. But once you make the decision, and understand the consequences, deciding whether AxCrypt or TrueCrupt is best for you will be easy.
Finally, I should point out that AxCrypt, while free, uses the OpenCandy system. This means that, when you install it, it will offer to install other software for you too, such as toolbars. You have the choice to say no, so keep your eyes open when installing AxCrypt. This is why AxCrypt fails the VirusTotal test - 1 of the 43 antivirus programs regards OpenCandy as malware. It's not. It's perfectly safe, and you can simply opt out when you install AxCrypt, so there's nothing to worry about.
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