When handling sensitive information it’s usually wise to use some form of encryption which prevents unauthorized access to your files. Some people even prefer to encrypt all of their data. In this article and video above we’re going to take a look at some of the best free encryption software and services.
These apps and sites will allow you to encrypt not only your files and folders, but also your communications, such as email and instant messaging.
|1||VeraCrypt||File, folder and harddrive encryption||Windows, Mac, Linux||9/10|
|2||Signal||Instant messaging encryption||Android, iOS, Chrome browser||9/10|
|3||7-Zip||File and folder encryption and compression||Windows, Linux||8/10|
|4||MEGA||Encrypted file hosting service||Web browsers, Mobile apps||8/10|
|5||AES Crypt||File encryption||Windows, Linux||7.5/10|
|6||ProtonMail||Encrypted email service||Web browsers, Mobile apps||7.5/10|
|7||Pidgin||Instant messaging encryption||Windows, Mac, Linux||7.5/10|
If you’ve ever heard about a program called TrueCrypt, which was shut down some years ago, VeraCrypt is basically a continuiation of that. It’s really the overall best solution for file and harddrive encryption. It supports creating encrypted file containers, also called volumes. They’re kind of like zip files except without the compression. These can then be mounted and decrypted in the software, they will appear kind of like a new harddrive. It also supports encrypting entire harddrives and creating hidden encrypted volumes.
Veracrypt supports military grade encryption, using many different algorithms. Such as AES, which is one of the most common ones. But it also has algorithms like Twofish and Serpent, and many more.
The software interface itself is also fairly user-friendly and not too complex to use. You can get Veracrypt for Windows, Mac and Linux computers.
Signal is a free open source encrypted communications app for Android and iOS. But you can also download Signal Desktop on your Chrome browser and then link it with the Signal app on your smartphone. Then you’ll be able to use it on your PC as well.
Signal offers automatic end-to-end encryption of all communications through the app. It also has features to prevent man-in-the-middle attacks such as eavesdropping. The app uses the Signal Protocol to encrypt communications. In October 2016 researchers from Oxford, Queensland University of Technology and McMaster University published a formal analysis on the Signal protocol and concluded it was cryptographically sound.
With Signal you can send text messages but also make voice and video calls. The app also has a group function and enables the sending of various files like photos, audio and video files, and even GIFs. On Android you can also use Signal as your default SMS app, which enables it to send unencrypted text messages.
Signal is a very good app for secure communications and it is also very easy to use.
7-Zip is mainly a file compression program like WinRAR or WinZIP, but it also offers very good encryption features. It can create password protected file containers with a 256-bit encryption in the .7z format. But 7-Zip can create encrypted .zip files as well.
As a file compressor it supports most compressed file formats including .zip, .rar, .tar and .tar.gz, and many more. The program works best as a shell extension. Just right click a file, multiple selected files or a folder, and choose 7-Zip and Add to archive. Then simply select the format, encryption and compression settings and password you want.
7-Zip is basically very easy to use, I recommend it and use it regularly myself. It is available for Windows and Linux computers.
Mega is an encrypted cloud storage and file hosting service first started in 2013 by Kim Dotcom in New Zealand after the infamous raids on his former file hosting service Megaupload.
When using Mega your files are immediately encrypted when uploading. So Mega itself cannot even access your files, and therefore its important that you remember your password or securely store your encryption keys which are provided when you sign up. Because Mega cannot restore the access to your account if you lose both your password and encryption keys.
Mega offers a free account with 50GB of storage space. There are also limits on free accounts as to how much they can download from the service on a daily basis.
Mega also has a browser extension to make transfering large files faster and more reliable. They are also working on a encrypted Mega chat feature.
However, the New Zealand government actually owns part of the company now, so it’s not as secure as it used to be. But overall I do still recommend Mega, you use it mainly through your web browser but it also has apps for Android and iOS.
#5 AES Crypt
AES Crypt is a very simple yet useful encryption program. It only supports encrypting individual files and works as a shell extension or as a command-line application. It only encrypts files with the 256-bit AES encryption algorithm.
Basically you just right click a file, select AES Encrypt, type in a password and press OK. This will copy the file into an encrypted volume with the .aes extension. You can also select multiple files and it will make an .aes volume for each file using the same password. To decrypt the data, just double click the .aes file, enter the password and it will copy the unencrypted file into the folder.
AES Crypt is very easy to use and highly user-friendly due to its simplicity. It is available for Windows, Mac and Linux computers, and there’s also an app called Crypt4all on Android which is based on AES Crypt.
American free email services like Google’s Gmail or Microsoft’s Outlook can most likely be easily accessed by the US government. So if you have sensitive data on those services, they might not be so reliable.
ProtonMail is a free encrypted email service from Switzerland. It offers end-to-end encryption for your emails, so ProtonMail themselves cannot even decrypt your emails if they wanted to. You also do not need to provide any personal information to sign up for an account. However, the free accounts only have 500Mb of storage space, so you might have to keep deleting emails to prevent it from filling up.
However, you can also upgrade to a paid account if you need more space. You can even pay for your account with Bitcoin.
The interface is very modern and user-friendly, should not be a problem for anyone to use. ProtonMail is mainly used through your web browser, but it also has apps for Android and iOS devices.
Pidgin is a free open source instant messaging client that supports multiple protocols, including XMPP or Jabber, IRC, Google Talk, AIM and many more. It is not normally encrypted, but it has a plugin called OTR, which stands for Off-The-Record. With this plugin you can encrypt your instant messaging chats with other people who also have the plugin.
Pidgin with OTR is not too hard to use, but its also not really user-friendly for beginners. As for security and encryption, OTR is actually its own cryptographic protocol which is very secure and also provides forward secrecy.
Pidgin, including the OTR plugin, is available for Windows, Mac and Linux computers. Overall it’s pretty secure for instant messaging, however it make take some getting used to for newbies.