Warning: Lots of discussion in this post but we think it’s worth the time it takes to read it. These are the basics of encryption, things you should know. (But dull, unfortunately!)
Encryption week continues, this time with a discussion of a containers versus zip files and encryption in general. Here are some definitions with explanations:
1. If you use a password to log on to your computer, you can’t say that your computer is encrypted. Yes, it is locked but it’s not necessarily encrypted.
2. You can lock your computer with a password and encrypt the hard drive. That’s not difficult to do, Windows can do this by itself, but you run the risk of losing ALL your data if something screws up. With Windows, that is a distinct possibility.
3. If you encrypt something, you have to use a password. That may seem obvious but this site is for beginners, right? Go back and read number one then read this one again. Passwords don’t automatically mean something is encrypted but everything that is encrypted requires a password.
4. You can have a zip file that is not encrypted. Almost all zip files don’t require a password. If you’re confused about what a zip file is, think of a suitcase. You can pile socks, T-shirts,hats, gloves, etc., into that suitcase, packed as tightly as possible. The suitcase goes on the plane/train/car with you. When you get to your destination, you usually unpack that suitcase. The things that were in it can then be put into drawers, on to hangers, and so on. A zip file is a suitcase. It’s smaller than the original file but everything is still there, nothing has been removed. To use the stuff inside a zip file, you have to unpack it.
5. Whether a zip file is password protected or not, you need a program to unzip it. Windows can do this on its own, as long as the zip file is just that, a zip. (There are other types of ‘compressed archive’ files but, for now, we’ll deal only with zips.)
6. A container is more like your house. Your house has a lock on the door, a container has a password, same thing. Your password protected computer could be termed a container. In our world, containers are much larger than zip files.
7. An encrypted container is something like a glass house where the windows are actually mirrors or they are smeared with petroleum jelly. You might be able to see inside but you can’t see what’s there. If you have the key to the lock, you can see everything. Without the key, no such luck.
Tip: A container can be a file or a folder but it could also be an encrypted flash drive or hard drive. In this post and in the future posts on encryption, we are discussing files and folders, not flash drives.
8. Using a program such as Notepad, you are able to look into any computer file. If you open a .jpg file, you’d be able to read the file header and know it was a .jpg. You wouldn’t be able to see the picture itself but you would know what type of file it is. If you open an encrypted file or folder in Notepad, everything inside it is illegible, nothing can be interpreted. Once the file or folder is unlocked, however, everything inside it becomes readable.
9. Nuts and bolts now. Use a zip file to send to someone via email. Use an encrypted zip file to protect passwords, personal documents, financial data from anyone who might intercept that file, on a flash drive or external hard drive, for instance. Use an encrypted container to store your files on your computer and online, in the Cloud. If you keep a copy of the container on your computer, you can simply upload it again and again, replacing the online one with the new, updated one.
Now you know a bit more about zip files and encrypted containers. In our next post we’ll show you how to encrypt a container using TrueCrypt. Finally, you may be asking yourself, “Why should I even bother to encrypt my stuff?” Here’s why.
Anything you put into an online storage facility, whether it is DropBox or Microsoft’s SkyDrive, is open to viewing by employees of that facility. If you think that these companies don’t go through your stuff, you’re mistaken. They do sift through your stuff on a regular basis. Your own and other government officials go through your files too but that’s not the point of our articles. We’re here to help you keep your personal data safe.
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