The best way to protect information is to make it meaningless to others. We do this through encryption. We don’t have the money that companies and governments have to encrypt software, so we’ll have to look for free encryption software. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s not good. So we introduce you to the best free encryption software.
You know that encryption means making data unreadable unless you have the key. What you may not know are the different methods, or algorithms used to encrypt data.
Think of an encryption key as some kind of strong password. The difference is that the encryption keys are often very long and random. You’ll often see them referred to as 128-bit or 256-bit keys, a number evenly divisible by 8. The number refers to the number of bits that make up the key or the length of the key.
While a password gets you into something, an encryption key is also part of the data encryption and decryption process. The appearance of the encrypted data depends on the key.
For data that only you will access, symmetric keys work best. It is called symmetric because the key works on both sides: encryption and decryption.
The length of the key is not considered that important with this system as you should be the only one with the key and physical access to the data. The NSA requires 256-bit symmetric keys.
To send or receive data with other people, an asymmetric key is not a good idea as the carrier would be able to decrypt the data.
Then an asymmetric key system is used. This means that there is a public key and a private key. Share the public key with your friends to encrypt the messages they send to you.
The public key can only be used for encryption. The private key is then used to decrypt the messages.
Asymmetric keys are normally longer than symmetric keys as the data comes out into the open, where people can grab it and try to decrypt it. The longer the key, the cheaper it becomes. The National Institute of Science and Technology recommends 2048-bit keys.
AES – ADVANCED ENCRYPTION SYSTEM
The most popular encryption algorithm, AES is the standard symmetric key encryption algorithm. AES encryption, which uses 128-bit keys, is sufficient for most people, but government agencies tend to use 256-bit keys or more. This is the encryption you want for fixed data like USB flash drives or hard drives.
RSA – ENCRYPTION RIVEST SHAMIR ADLEMAN
RSA is a public or asymmetric key encryption algorithm. The algorithm is used in several security protocols such as OpenPGP and SSL certificates used with the HTTPS protocol. You will see these protocols using either 1024 or 2048 bit keys. The latter is more popular. If you are looking for secure communications, look for terms like RSA, HTTPS, PGP, OpenPGP, and GnuPG.
BEST FREE DRIVE ENCRYPTION
Let’s start with the largest repository of information most of us have, the hard drives in our computers. We recommend two, depending on the operating system (OS) used.