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Technology / Business technology

How to keep your data private

Everyone has personal information on their computer they’d prefer to keep private. But how can you ensure your data doesn’t get into the wrong hands?

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You don’t need me to tell you the risks of losing your laptop or having your home computer stolen. But have you considered the repercussions of someone prying on the private information stored on your device?

We all have documentation and data on our computers that is best not seen by others – and I don’t mean this in a bad way. Medical records, heartfelt correspondence, financial records… it goes on.

In a previous article I spoke about the need to erase this data before your device or computer gets handed on, sold or scrapped. But another option is to hide your data from plain sight in the first place, so it can’t be read by anyone but you.

The ancient art of encrypting data is alive and well in the computer age, and it can be a practical way to protect you from all sorts of privacy disasters.

"Encryption is something that is best thought about when you are setting up your new device or computer. Adding encryption later can be risky and time consuming."

These days most operating systems have data encryption built in (Windows BitLocker Drive Encryption and Mac OS). If you are running an older computer or one without encryption included (it varies depending on your version of Windows) then a third-party product such as or GoSafe could be used.

There are many ways these systems work, but essentially they all rely on some sort of key to grant access to files, whether that be a password, a special key file, or a piece of hardware such as a dongle that needs to be recognised, among other options.

When choosing the most suitable data encryption key for you, you need to look at your computer habits. Encryption is only as strong as its weakest link. If your password is “password” then password-based encryption probably isn’t for you, unless you are prepared to lift your game. If you carry a large handbag or briefcase and constantly lose things in it, then a dongle may not be a good idea for you. If you aren’t good with copying files and backing up data then a key-file approach won’t be good for you.

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Another weak link may be your back-ups. If you encrypt your computer but not your back-ups, then what’s the point? Your data needs to be encrypted everywhere or you are just wasting your time. It doesn’t have to be the same encryption or the same system; it just has to be hidden to a level that satisfies your minimal level of paranoia. NOTE: using two strategies also covers you in the event of one system failing, such as if you lose the password or dongle.

Encryption is something that is best thought about when you are setting up your new device or computer. Adding encryption later can be time consuming and risky, as there’s a chance files could be lost (have I mentioned the importance of “good back-ups” yet in this article?).

Some people who consider themselves very careful have multiple passwords on their laptops. They might have a password for logging on to the system, a hard-disk password and a BIOS password on a chip inside their laptop. That’s three passwords that need to be entered for you to get started. And guess what: they are all easily circumvented.

But encryption isn’t even this complex.

If you encrypt your laptop’s hard disk you only need the one password to get started. You can turn off the other three because even if someone does get hold of your computer they can’t get at the data without your password or key.

Simpler and safer. Who would have thought?

Is data privacy an important issue for you? Have you considered data encryption?

David Moore

is the owner of I Hate My PC. He helps people make computers work for them instead of the other way round.

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