If you have read my 5 Step Data Security Plan for Small Businesses article in addition to many of my blog posts, you will see where I advise that encryption is one of the best and cheapest data security measures a small business can take to protect their data.

So let’s talk about the main areas where it makes sense to use encrytion.

  1. Files
  2. Computers and Servers
  3. Email

Files – There are several options for encrypting files. 

  1. If you need to do a quick file encryption, most programs today offer the ability to encypt files created within the program.  Microsoft Office 2007 and above for example allows you to do fairly easy AES 128-bit encryption.  Note:  Microsoft 2003 also offers encryption, but there are some weaknesses in the encryption so I would avoid it.  In Office 2007 just click on the Microsoft Office button in the top left corner, select Prepare, and then enter in a password.  In Office 2010 click the File tab, select Info, select Protect Document, select Encrypt with Password, and enter a password.  If someone is using an older verion of Office, they can still open your file by either installing the Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack or running an MS operating system that supports AES encryption.  Other programs like Adobe also allow you to encrypt files. 
  2. An easier way to encrypt any and all files, that is not software platform dependant, is to download and use an encryption software like TrueCrypt or DiskCryptor.  Note:  TrueCrypt can be used with Windows 7/Vista/XP, Mac OS X, and Linux operating systems. DiskCryptor works with Microsoft operating systems only.

Computers and Servers – For computers or servers, you can use TrueCrypt to encrypt the entire hard drive or disk drive.  It is a fairly simple process, and TrueCrypt provides you with step-by-step instructions.  You should especially consider encrypting any servers or computers where you store critical data and mobile laptops. 

Email – There are several options for encrypting emails. 

  1. If you just need to encrypt a file before sending it, then follow the steps I covered above in the File encryption section. 
  2. If you would like to encrypt the entire email, you can use a third party software like MessageLock, or you can use a third party service like Sendinc.  Sendinc provides the most “hassle free” way to encrypt an email, but keep in mind you are using their third party cloud service.

Any of the options I mentioned above will provide you with solid encryption protection.  The last thing to remember is even though you are using encryption, you still want to use a strong password, and keep the password in a safe place.

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