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Safety & security

Privacy hack: How to password-protect files on Windows 10

How important is digital security to you? Most people take, at minimum, the basic steps to ensure their privacy on the devices they use.

Not everyone takes the extra steps they should to protect messaging privacy, though — and that’s a pretty significant mistake to make. It’s important to take time to encrypt your communication, like emails and texts. Without encryption, any computer-savvy criminal can intercept messages to steal your personal information. Making them unreadable takes care of that issue.

But it’s not just messages that should be protected. If you’re a PC owner, you can also guard files, folders and other important information on your computer — and you should. Doing so will help keep your files away from hackers and prying eyes.

Encrypting files with Windows 10 Home Edition

If you’re using Windows 10 Home Edition, you’ll need to use a third-party app. Luckily, there are plenty of solid options to choose from.

Take, for example, the WinRar tool. This is a free file compression and encryption tool that you can use to protect important files and folders on your PC. One thing to note before you download it, though, is that WinRar offers both 32- and 64-bit versions of the app. You’ll need to know which version of Windows you’re running before you install it.

If you don’t know that information off-hand, there’s a simple way to check. All you have to do is click on the Windows icon on your home screen and search for System. The specific information you need is listed under System type.

Using the WinRar tool to encrypt files is easy. Before you start, though, you may want to take note of the files or folders you want to encrypt so you aren’t digging around for them. Once you’ve identified files you want to encrypt and WinRar is installed, you can get started with the process.

To encrypt files, you just need to right-click the folder or file. You’ll see an option for Add to Archive — select it. Doing so will create a new — but smaller — copy of the file or folder. It will contain the same contents as the original. Another menu will open during this process with an option for Set password. Select it.

From there, a pop-up window will appear with an option to Encrypt file names. You’ll need to select that option and enter the password you’ve chosen for your files. The program will ask you to enter the password twice.

Once you click OK, your new file will be encrypted. You’ll need to either delete or pull the original file onto a USB or cloud-based storage service to get it off of your desktop. Leave the .rar file on your desktop.

Related: Secure your emails by changing a few important settings

Another solid option is 7-Zip, a tool that’s typically used for zipping and unzipping files. However, 7-Zip also offers the ability to encrypt and decrypt files. A plus to using 7-Zip is that files are encrypted using AES -256 bit encryption, the most secure method.

But while 7-Zip is extremely secure, it won’t take a computer genius to navigate it. You’ll start by downloading and installing the tool, which will add a link for encryption in the Context Menu. Same deal here as with WinRar, you’ll need to know if your machine is 32 or 64-bit to download the correct version.

Once 7-Zip is installed, you’re ready to start the process. Begin by right-clicking on the file or folder you want to password-protect. This will pull up a menu. Select 7-Zip and then Add to archive on the menu.

The Add to archive dialogue box will open. From there, select the archive format. Select Compression level and tap the box for Normal. This will prompt you to enter the new password twice for the file. Once the password is entered, make sure the encryption method is marked as AES-255.

Check the box that says Encrypt file names. Press OK to create your encrypted file. The next time you need to open the file, you’ll be prompted to enter the password — and won’t get access without it.

Encrypting files with Windows 10 Pro Edition

If you’re using Windows 10 Pro Edition, you won’t need a third-party app to encrypt files. You have access to encryption within Windows Pro. There are different encryption types available: BitLocker, file- and folder-level encryption, and document protection through Office.

If you want to encrypt a file or folder in Windows 10 Pro, start by locating and right-clicking it. From there, select Properties and click on Advanced. Look for the box that says Encrypt contents to secure data and click it. Click OK on the menu and then click Apply.

If you’re encrypting a file, a menu will pop up asking if you’d like to encrypt the entire folder. Select either yes or no and click OK. If you need to remove the encryption from the file or folder, you need to follow the instructions above but deselect the box for Encrypt contents to secure data.

If you want to encrypt a single document in Windows 10 Pro, you can. Just open the document you want to secure and select File from the menu. From there, select Protect Document and then Encrypt with Password. You’ll enter a password twice to secure your document. Select OK to complete the encryption process.

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