Do I Need to Encrypt my PC?

“Encrypt everything” is common advice, particularly with concerns around snooping and privacy that have been in the news in recent hears. But does the average computer user really need to encrypt their hard drive?

When files are encrypted, they are essentially scrambled to the point where they are unusable unless they are first decrypted, which requires a decryption key. This clearly has benefits for home users. If your laptop or computer is stolen, encryption will prevent anyone from accessing your potentially personal and/or sensitive files. Although realistically, the average laptop thief is likely going to be more concerned with the hardware rather than your data, it’s still a vital layer of protection if you’re storing data that you do not want getting into other people’s hands.

You might want to consider encryption if you’re storing lots of sensitive information like bank or financial details, tax documents, or copies of other important documents like your passport or birth certificate. But if your hard drive only contains things like non-sensitive documents, music, movies and photos, you probably don’t need to encrypt your entire hard drive. One drawback of encryption is that it slows down your machine’s performance, as every file that is written needs to be first encrypted, and then decrypted in order to be read. In short – encryption is only absolutely necessary for people who are concerned about their data being accessed.

One compromise might be to encrypt a section of your hard drive, or encrypt particular files one at a time, rather than the entire volume. File encryption is now built into Windows (Bitlocker) and Mac (Time Machine) operating systems, although they are normally turned off by default. If your operating system doesn’t support encryption natively, there are many third party encryption programs that you can use, like VeraCrypt and TrueCrypt. A popular way to encrypt individual files is with a piece of software called AxCrypt, which works by changing the file extension to .AXX, so files can only be opened with the software before they are encrypted. AxCrypt is a free piece of software, so its popularity is unsurprising. 7-Zip, a program originally designed for extracting and compressing files, can also be used to encrypt files individually.

File Encryption