By using a decryption key, such as a password, only you will be able to read the data stored in an encrypted file, folder, or disk on your computer.
If someone were to get access to your files, they would need to know your password (the decryption key), but if they were to remove a disk from your system and try to read the data on another computer, they would see nothing but gibberish. If your Windows or macOS computer is ever lost or stolen, you won’t have to worry about anybody accessing the information on it.
There have been changes in the way the most common OSes deal with encryption, and there are now third-party programs that allow you even more flexibility in your encryption settings. You can trust us to walk you through all the information you need to make an informed decision about your alternatives.
Standard Windows Features
Windows makes encryption a little more difficult than it has to be. It’s important to note that Windows Home and Windows Pro are not identical. BitLocker, the encryption mechanism provided to Pro customers, is very robust; however, the Home version provides a simpler option. This feature, known simply as device encryption, may be accessed from the Windows 10 Settings menu by selecting Privacy & security and then Device encryption.
But hold on, since not everyone will see this choice: Hardware security features in your PC or laptop are essential for this. It’s a lot to take in, and we won’t be able to cover everything here, but if you want to learn more, check out The Windows Club’s fantastic explanation. To find out why your computer does or does not support this function, look for a program named “system information” in the Start menu, then right-click on it and execute it as an administrator.
If your hardware does satisfy the criteria and the Device encryption item appears, you may verify the encryption status of your system disks; this should be the case by default if you log in using a Microsoft account. Anyone who gains unauthorized access to your hard drives will be unable to see the information stored on them since it will be encrypted and secure. You may flip the switch to the On position if encryption is disabled.
BitLocker, available on the Windows Professional edition, encrypts removable media such as flash drives and external hard drives. Simply right-click the disk in File Explorer, choose Show more options, and then select Turn on BitLocker to protect it with a password. Those using the Home version, on the other hand, don’t have this choice; to encrypt external disks, they’ll need to rely on a third-party application, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.
Features Integrated into macOS
Although encryption on macOS is easier to understand than in Windows, it still requires some clarification. By default, the contents of the system drive are encrypted on Macs manufactured with a T2 security chip or Apple silicon (late 2017 and later). Access to the computer and the data stored on the hard drive is restricted until you enter your account password.
FileVault is an utility that can be enabled to provide an additional layer of encryption security without going into too much technical detail (which you can find here if you want to go further). FileVault makes it more difficult to access the keys needed to decrypt your Mac disk in the event of theft or unauthorized access (such as when a stolen Mac is connected to another computer). While this used to have an effect on speed and performance, modern Macs have made this so little that it is hardly perceptible.
After installing macOS for the first time, you’ll be prompted to activate FileVault. FileVault may be activated (or deactivated) at will through the Apple menu > System Settings > Privacy & Security. There’s a FileVault choice, and you can learn more about it there. You’ll also be asked to choose a recovery method in case you lose your password and can’t access your system disk, such as iCloud or a physical recovery key.
Using Finder, you may encrypt your external disks using a password: You may encrypt them using a right-click menu option. In order to make the drive compatible with encryption, you may need to erase and reformat it. To do this, use the Disk Utility software in macOS, select the external drive in question, and then click Erase. Give the drive a name, choose a suitable encrypted option from the Format menu (your choices are discussed here), and last, select GUID Partition Map from the Scheme menu. To use the drive, just enter your password and click the Erase button.
Alternatives to Windows and macOS from Third Parties
If the default encryption settings in Windows or macOS don’t cut it for you, you can always turn to a third-party app like Cryptomator, NordLocker, or AxCrypt, all of which can encrypt your data for you for free or a small fee. However, there is one in particular that we think you should use, and that is VeraCrypt: It’s free, works on Windows, macOS, and even Linux, and it’s very easy to learn and implement.
Although the application is easy to use once you get going, we do suggest reading the online instructions that comes with it. Let’s pretend you’re trying to encrypt a portable hard drive: Start VeraCrypt and choose Create Volume after you have the drive connected in and formatted. Then, after clicking Next, choose to encrypt a disk that isn’t the system drive. Choose the disk you wish to encrypt and then go with the on-screen instructions.
Select the former option if there are already files on the disk that you do not want to be deleted during the setup process, where you will be asked whether you want to encrypt the existing data or format it ready for files to be added. In addition, you’ll be prompted to set a password to secure the drive; this is something you should keep in mind so as not to forget it (you won’t be able to use the drive without the password).
Encrypted volumes, or “containers,” may be created and managed using VeraCrypt. For whatever reason, this is one method for encrypting just the data you need to protect, rather than the whole drive. To create an encrypted storage space, start from VeraCrypt’s main screen and choose Create Volume. You’ll be prompted to choose a disk file to serve as the encrypted container for all other files and folders.