What You Said: How Do You Encrypt Your Data?

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By Jason Fitzpatrick on June 10th, 2011

2011-06-10_113149

Earlier this week we asked you to share your favorite tools and tricks for encrypting your data. Now we’re back to highlight the most popular tools and how you use them.

Encryption is a simple way to secure your data in the event that a third party gains access to your machine or your remote storage account. Readers shared a variety of their favorite tools and techniques for security everything from snippets of text to entire hard drives.

TrueCrypt Rules the Roost

TrueCrypt was undeniably the most popular tool used by readers to secure their data. It received more mentions than all the other tools combined.

Clb92 writes:

[I use an] external hard drive with hidden encrypted TrueCrypt container and portable TrueCrypt installed on it, along with a set of custom batch-files to mount the container with the TrueCrypt portable version. That way I am able to mount the container on any computer as long as it’s Windows 98 (I think), XP, Vista or 7. (The batch-files does not mount it automatically, of course. They just open the TrueCrypt password prompt, and afterwards mount it as a specific drive letter.)

Atle combines the best of encryption and remote file syncing:

TrueCrypt + Dropbox = secure and automatically backed up

Michael goes all out, encrypting his entire disk:

I have maybe six files that warrant privacy measures; however, because no one has the right to invade the privacy (in my eyes) TrueCrypt guards my entire system, as well as my DropBox through a TC container.

Reader F11 takes it one step further by encrypting his entire disk then storing the extra sensitive data on a TrueCrypt volume inside of the master drive:

I have TrueCrypt system encryption running on my laptop (this opens from a password) as well as a volume within the system to store important data (this is unlocked using a keyfile I carry on a memory stick). for storing files in places I need to be able to access without TrueCrypt I use either Toucan portable (also on that memory stick) or 7-Zip although writing files into a 7-Zip archive is really annoying.

TrueCrypt Alternatives

Although the majority of readers use TrueCrypt in some capacity, there were several qualified outliers that functioned as TrueCrypt alternatives or stood in for TrueCrypt when certain limitations arose (like portability).

Several readers used AxCrypt because of it’s flashdrive friendly design. Erwin writes:

Axcript and I put the files on a flash drive.

Chet uses TrueCrypt on his main machine but rolls out the AxCrypt for portable encryption:

I use TrueCrypt. Its free and very effective. I also use Axcrypt and Tucan for flash drive encryption.

Bitlocker, the encryption tool included with Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows Vista and 7, made a frequent appearance as a tool for securing external media. TheGift73 writes:

Full system encryption using TrueCrypt (have this on all my computers) and use BitLocker on the externals.

Schmidty echoes the Bitlocker for external drives trend:

I use BitLocker on my USB Drives and Laptop HDDs.

What we found most interesting among all of the alternatives was the relatively scarce mentions of PGP, an application that used to be an absolute titan in the encryption world. Doug writes:

PGP Desktop Professional whole disk encryption (plus digitally signed and optionally encrypted email). PGP is available both as a supported product from Symantec, and for free for every OS, unlike TrueCrypt.

Interestingly what Doug notes as a selling point for PGP (ownership and support provided by Symantec) seems to be when PGP began losing popularity. It’s also worth noting that TrueCrypt is open-source (as PGP once was) and thus people are more


You can hit up the original thread for additional tips and tricks or sound off in the comments here to share your methods if you missed the original Ask the Readers post. Have a good idea for a future Ask the Readers column? Send us an email at tips@howtogeek.com and we’ll do our best to give it the attention it deserves.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/10/11
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