Tech safety is a top concern nowadays. With almost every connected computer, the threats are more than real. Windows-powered computers are particularly under threat, as they are the ones most susceptible to malware.
Equipping your system with a quality antivirus is at the minimum a crucial aspect of tech safety. Moving on, encrypting files and folders on Windows is another way to prevent data theft and unauthorized access. Here’s how to encrypt files and folders in Windows 10.
Two Built-In Options
Microsoft Windows products are equipped with two tools that are widely used for encrypting files and folders. The first one is called BitLocker. BitLocker is the most secure out of the two options. However, this tool makes encrypting individual folders and files difficult.
Then, there’s the other encryption tool. Encrypting Files System, or EFS, comes with some Windows 10 systems. However, EFS isn’t recommended for data that is very sensitive.
Unfortunately, operating systems such as Windows 10 Home don’t have any built-in encryption tools.
Third-party encryption tools are available. They are usually paid software packages that often do a better job at encryption than Microsoft’s built-in tools. However, the end result is reliable file encryption regardless of the tool.
How to Encrypt Files and Folders
Knowing the encryption tools is far from enough. You still have to know how to actually do it.
First things first, make sure that your computer is connected to a power source. File encryption can take a while, especially if you’re encrypting an entire hard drive. You can work on other things while BitLocker is encrypting the selected files, but a reboot or two will be required.
Here’s how to set up BitLocker. First, navigate to Control Panel. Find it by opening the Start menu and searching for it. Then, once in Control Panel, go to System and Security. In this menu, navigate to BitLocker Drive Encryption and select Turn on BitLocker.
There are two ways to encrypt files and folders on Windows 10: with a password or a USB flash drive. You’ll be prompted to choose between the two when you turn on BitLocker. Let’s say that you’ve decided to go the route of a password, which will be required for anyone to decrypt the files/folders.
BitLocker is going to ask you to enter a password and confirm it. Now, select Next. You’ll be prompted to select where you want the recovery key to be locked in case you forget the password (or lose the flash drive, for the other method).
Now, you’ll get to select one of two options: Encrypt entire drive or Encrypt used disk space only. The former, as you’d expect, is slower. Depending on the type of drive that you’re attempting to encrypt, choose between New encryption mode and Compatible mode. The former is better for fixed drives and the latter removable drives.
To proceed, check the box next to Run BitLocker system check, as this will confirm whether your recovery/encryption keys work. Finally, select Continue. Encryption should begin. If you’d like to check whether the encryption was successful, go to My PC and see whether there’s a lock icon next to the drive. If it is, you did it.
Alternatively, you can use EFS to encrypt separate files and folders. The is a bit more click-intensive, but it’s all fairly straightforward.
First, find the folder/file that you want to encrypt. Right-click it and select Properties. A dialog box will open, in which you’ll find the Advanced button. Click it and the Advanced Attributes dialog box will open. Navigate to Compress or Encrypt attributes and check the box for Encrypt contents to secure data. After you’re done, select OK.
Back in the Properties dialog box, click Apply. A new dialog box titled Confirm Attribute Changes should open. Here, you’ll get to choose to apply these changes only to the folder or to include subfolders and files. Select the preferred option and then OK.
At this point, a pop-up message should appear, prompting you to back up your encryption certificate and key. It’s recommended that you do this, especially for critically important files and folders. Before you select Back up now, make sure that you’ve got a USB flash drive plugged into your computer. Selecting Back up later will have Windows remind you about the scheduled backup the next time you log in. Finally, Never back up is self-explanatory.
Now, click Next and then Next one more time to create your encryption certificate. Unless you’re familiar with the more advanced settings, it’s recommended that you stick with the default file format. Proceed to check the box for Password and then enter your password, confirm it, and select Next. Then, go to your USB drive, give the certificate a name, and select the key that you wish to export followed by Save.
Finally, go to Next, select Finish, and confirm by clicking OK.
Encrypting Office Documents
You could use the abovementioned encryption methods to safeguard your Microsoft Word and Excel documents, but there’s a much more straightforward way to do it for these files. It’s not going to work for other types of files, though.
To get started, open the Word or Excel file that you want to encrypt. Then, select the File tab in the upper-right corner. Navigate to Info and select Protect Document. You’ll come across two options: Encrypt with Password and Restrict Editing. The former will lock the file with a password. The latter will limit editing access (to you or a list of approved users).
Again, let’s illustration with the password option. You’ll be prompted to type in the password and enter it again to confirm. After selecting OK, you can click Save to complete the encryption.
Advanced Excel Protection
You can actually choose to protect only parts of an Excel spreadsheet. This is very useful for sharing different levels of data. You’re making some of them available but not all the data. And for those who should have access to all the data, you can just share the password. You can limit access to individual cells, worksheets, or workbooks.
To get started with just the cells, select those that you want to protect. Then, go to the Review menu at the top and select Protect Sheet. In this window, find and check Select unblocked cells. Also, uncheck Select locked cells (if it’s not already unchecked).
Now, enter a password and click OK. You’ll be prompted to confirm the password.
This will prevent users who don’t have the password from changing or editing the cells. The other cells on the worksheet are not affected (of course, this would be different if you had protected the whole worksheet or workbook).
Encrypting Files and Folders in Windows 10
Some versions of Microsoft Windows 10 offer two built-in encryption tools. However, if your Windows 10 edition doesn’t have either, feel free to go look for a third-party solution.
Learning how to encrypt files and folders is an important aspect of tech security, which is true of all computers and not just Windows 10 systems. In addition to an antivirus, this can help to keep your information safe online and offline.