Got a Laptop? Protect Your Files! How To Encrypt On PCs and Macs

Have you ever thought about what might happen if you lost your laptop? Or if someone stole it? Or sneaked into your files without your permission? It happens every day, and if you’re like most of us, you have information on your computer —financial, work-related, personal — that you don’t want others to see.

So play it smart: encrypt your sensitive files! It’s easy. Here’s how.

(But first,you need to understand that when you encrypt a file, you’re digitally scrambling its data. To decrypt the data, the person opening the file needs to have the password — and this includes you! Make sure you have a good system for keeping track of your passwords … then hop along on your merry encrypting way. P.S. Don’t forget to back up, too!)

Windows 7 or Windows Vista
The Encrypting Files System (EFS) is the same for Windows 7 and Windows Vista and allows you to encrypt any file or folder on your computer. The first time you do it, an encryption certificate is created. You need this. Back it up.

Windows XP (Home Edition excluded)
The EFS for Windows XP will encrypt files and folders and has a few more steps than the other Microsoft operating systems but is still easy. Make sure the file is closed before encrypting.

There are two ways to encrypt Mac files. The first encrypts everything in your Home folder (including your iTunes and iPhoto libraries) with File Vault. This can be overkill and automatically turns off some sharing features.

The second way is by using Disk Utility (in your Applications folder), through which you can create an encrypted disk image that appears as a “Device” on your Finder. A disk image works like a folder (mostly), except you need a password to open it.

Note: When working in Microsoft Office, iWork and other programs, you can encrypt individual files from within the software — see individual Help menus for instructions. Third-party encryption software also abounds.