NetAction's Guide to Using Encryption Software

Do I need encryption?

Ask around, and you'll hear varied opinions on whether to use encryption. Certainly, it can add complexity to using your computer. It may be a minor inconvenience such as having to log in with a password every time you turn on your computer, or a major hassle, such as having to fool with a difficult interface every time you want to do anything on your computer. Encrypting large files can take a lot of time and computing power. Even worse, losing passwords or corrupting encryption program installations can lead to data loss. So why bother?

The answer is simple: if the data on your computer is sensitive enough, you should use encryption. For example:

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," you should take steps to ensure the privacy of this data.

Keep in mind that you don't need to spot suspicious men in a satellite dish-equipped van parked outside your building to warn you that you are potentially at risk of data theft. Malicious hackers may find vulnerabilities in your Internet connection. It's a good idea always to assume that it's possible for someone to violate your computer's security and privacy, and act accordingly to prevent it. This is especially true if you are using Microsoft software, which is particularly vulnerable because it is so widely used. (Malicious hackers know they can cause the most damage by targeting widely used software programs.)

Even if you take the extra steps required to encrypt your data, there are still likely to be vulnerabilities that could allow a skilled or well-funded data thief to get access to your data. Read the section on vulnerabilities for details.

It's up to you to weigh the risk of data theft against the trouble it would take to guard against it by using encryption. Because the usability, learning curve, and difficulty of using these programs factors greatly into the equation of whether you want (or need) to use them, our software reviews focus on how easy it is to get started with the programs and to use them on a day-to-day basis. Since cost is also a major concern for non-profits, we have included reviews of several low-cost or free software options.

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