Encryption Buying Guide

Choosing an encryption program can be confusing and a little overwhelming, so we’ve put together the following list of questions and answers to help make your decision:

Why do I need an encryption program?

Encryption of sensitive data is essential for keeping it safe even if the hardware where the data is stored get lost or stolen. Imagine losing a laptop that has confidential customer information, such as bank account details, on your way to a business meeting. Similarly, other mobile devices, such as USB flash drives and memory cards, are particularly prone to loss and theft. In May 2006, the Department of Veteran Affairs reported that a laptop and some disks containing personal information of 26.5 million veterans were stolen. Encryption is the only way to prevent data theft.

Another good reason for having data in encrypted format is the growing number of security attacks on the Internet. The data transferred on the Internet and the data stored on your home or office computer connected to the Internet is vulnerable to security attacks.

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My business stores personal data about our customers, should I be using encryption?

Yes! It’s essential that you use encryption to protect your customers’ personal data. The data in an unencrypted format is exposed in case of theft, loss or attack and can become a personal and financial security issue. Since any loss of data affects the credibility of your business, protecting your customers’ confidential information is vital for the continued growth and success of your business.

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Are there any laws that require my business to use encryption?

There is a growing trend among regulatory agencies and governments to require the use of encryption by businesses that possess consumer data. Currently, the state of Nevada has a law, which makes it mandatory for businesses to encrypt data that is transmitted through any electronic means except fax. A new law mandated by the state of Massachusetts, which became effective in 2009, requires any data, including the data being transmitted or at rest, and hardware on which the data resides, to be encrypted. Numerous other laws and regulations are expected to be implemented in the coming years.

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How do encryption tools work?

Encryption is a process of converting data into a format that is unreadable by any unauthorized person. Data encryption is in use in most government and military communications to transfer information securely from one point to another. The process of encrypting data involves the use of an algorithm called a Cipher to convert bytes of data into a coded language that can only be accessed using a key, which decrypts the data. A person without the key will always see data in an unreadable format.

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What is encryption software?

Encryption software is a tool for encrypting and decrypting sensitive data on PCs, laptops and removable media like USB flash drives and memory cards. The software converts the data into a special coded format called Cipher Text and can only be viewed by a person with a valid decryption key.

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What are the different types of encryption software available?

There are different types of encryption available for protecting data. Some of the most common types of encryption are:

  • File-System Level Encryption – This type of encryption is also called File or Folder encryption. The file-system level encryption works on individual files and folders and locks them with separate encryption keys. It allows easy organization and management of individual files and folders. SensiGuard falls into the category of file encryption software.
  • Full Disk encryption – As the name suggests, full disk encryption is a type of encryption that encrypts each and every byte of data stored on the hard disk, including the temporary files and swap space. This type of encryption uses a single key for encrypting the whole volume, which means encrypting individual files and folders is not an option. While it provides excellent protection, the full disk encryption method is much more complicated to administer and is typically used by large corporations with the necessary expertise and technical resources to implement it. Some new laptops, however, now include full disk encryption.
  • Email Encryption – Email encryption ensures that messages and attachments are only available to the authorized recipient. Email encryption generally uses Public Key Cryptography. In this type of cryptography, the user has a set of two keys, public and private. The user can distribute the public key to everyone and the private key has to be kept secret. Any message addressed to the recipient that is encrypted with his public key can only be decrypted using his private key. In order to maintain security, the private key should be sent to the recipient in a separate email.

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I've seen some free encryption programs. Are they good?

Most free encryption products are a result of collaborative efforts of various programmers. Although this ensures that the product is feature rich, there is often a lack of standards, documentation is not always available or updated and the product can have numerous unresolved bugs, which can defeat the overall purpose of using it. Also, most open source or free products do not provide customer support and the users are dependent upon community members for assistance. This can be a real problem if any immediate assistance is needed.

So, the bottom line is this: if you’re semi-technical and not averse to doing your own troubleshooting when problems arise, then many of the open source solutions are great. However, if you’re like most people and just want software that’s easy to use and you’d rather just pick up the phone and speak with a live customer service representative when you need help, then the relatively low cost of paid software is your best bet.

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Why isn't the Windows password enough to protect my data?

Windows passwords or any other OS (Operating System) level passwords can only enforce security restrictions when the OS is active. In a scenario of someone attempting to read the data directly from the hardware, such as a removable disk, the OS level passwords cannot enforce security. Encrypting the data ensures that even if the data is read directly from the hardware, it is only available in a format, which can’t be read by an unauthorized person.

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What are the characteristics of a good password? How can I make mine really strong?

The core characteristic of a good password is that it’s easy for you to remember but difficult for anyone else to guess. Here are some tips to help you create a strong password:

  • Keep it lengthy – Ideally more 14 characters
  • Use the full keyboard – Combining of numbers, letters and special characters increases the strength of your password
  • Use a pass phrase – Check if pass phrases, especially with spaces in between words, are allowed and if yes, use them
  • Avoid common guesses – Don’t use names, user name, sequences, ID numbers, dictionary words and common substitutes such as “1” for “I”. Avoid using any other personally identifiable information that directly relates to you.

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Where can I find more information about my encryption software options?

There are numerous free resources on the Internet to help you understand your options better and help you find the best solution for your needs. Check the Google Directory for sites with news and reviews of encryption tools.

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