In the course of defending against threats to PC security, the first layer is not encryption software. The first layer of defense consists of a Windows firewall. The second layer is antivirus and antiphishing software. The next is file encryption. Even after you take reasonable precautions against malware and phishing attacks, you are vulnerable to losing control of sensitive documents. Unless you encrypt files, someone could intercept them as you transmit them across a network or share them by email. Furthermore, anybody who gets control of your PC can open any files that you haven’t encrypted. If you’d like to learn more, we invite you to read articles about PC encryption software. After examining the available products, we conclude the best are Folder Lock, Advanced Encryption Package Pro and Dekart Keeper.
In the course of evaluating and ranking the best encryption programs, we considered the encryption features along with any additional security features, as well as help and support.
The encryption specification that the U.S. government and military require is also available to citizens: 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). Most but not all of the software products in our encryption software comparison meet the 256-bit key AES specification. One of the products uses a 256-bit key encryption method called Twofish, which was one of five competitors that attempted to become the Advanced Encryption Standard. Twofish lost to the Rijndael algorithm, which became our current AES. Another product in our review uses the 384-bit key version of an encryption method called Blowfish. Without getting into the mathematics of the underlying algorithms, suffice it to say that a brute-force decryption of a file encrypted with any of the products in our review might take billions of years. Strength of encryption, therefore, is not a ranking criteria in our review because mathematical academics maintain ongoing scholarly debates about the relative strengths and weaknesses of Rijndael versus Twofish versus Blowfish and, in the meantime, the only weaknesses are theoretical. Nobody has actually cracked any real-life implementations of these algorithms, nor are they about to. None of the products in our review contain a backdoor or master key that would allow access to anyone but the user.
In order to rank encryption products, then, we focus on features that help you to encrypt, decrypt and distribute files. For example, most but not all encryption software lets you distribute encrypted files over email or on removable media such as USB drives or DVDs without requiring the recipient to run a copy of the encryption software. All of the reviewed products let you protect data on removable media such as optical discs and USB drives. However, only one of the products in our review provides encrypted online backup of files.
The best data encryption software often includes additional security features that are not aspects of encryption. Many of the products include a file shredder that allows for the complete destruction of a deleted file so that no file recovery utility would be able to resurrect it. Some encryption products provide safe password generators and password meters that display the strength of a proposed password. When it gets down to products that can clean your computer activity history or provide you with a virtual keyboard to combat keylogger malware, there are only a few in our review.
Help & Support
Unfortunately, most of the encryption software publishers in our review limit support access to email and do not answer questions quickly, if at all. However, all of them post an online manual, high-quality questions and answers, and useful tutorials. We, of course, give preference to those publishers that let you telephone for help and to those that actually responded to our emails.
In the course of doing its job, internet security software can make mistakes because there are new types of malware attacks and phishing scams every day. However, if someone is spying on your network or gains control of your computer, encryption software is an excellent third line of defense (after firewalls and antimalware) to secure stored and transmitted data. Encryption software lets you control a file so that nobody can read it without a password from you. Unlike internet security software that can never stop every malware or phishing threat, encryption software does exactly what it is supposed to do, without compromise. The encryption components of the products in our review are all so strong as to be impervious to attack. Therefore, the more important evaluation criteria are the ease with which encryption is implemented, complementary features, and level of client support.