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Encrypting data and mail messages

23/02/08

Encrypting data and mail messages

Permalink 12:22:17 pm by Eugene Gardner, Categories: Articles

In light of the millions of people's private data that has recently been in the news apparently lost due to official ineptitude, I have been asked by a small local charity how they can safeguard private data held on a publicly accessible PC.

After a thorough trawl of the options I am recommending an open source (a.k.a. free) program called TrueCrypt available from http://www.truecrypt.org/ This allows unlimited files to be encrypted on-the-fly by dropping them in to a specially created data vault. This 'vault' is really just a folder on your PC that happens to appear to contain gibberish unless accessed via a mounted drive - something that can only be done by those knowing the pass phrase.

The same program can be used to encrypt entire disk drives, optical or hard, bootable or secondary. The digital vault can be automatically closed after a period of inactivity or when a screen saver kicks in. The documentation for TrueCrypt is comprehensive and well written and the program interface easy to understand.

On a related note, sending e-mail is rightly regarded as akin to sending a postcard in that each mail passes through many servers and is easily readable by anyone with a mind to do so. There are two main ways to make life harder for would be snoopers: encryption and steganography.

Encryption is fine for some, but the recipient has to know how to decrypt the message and the fact that it is encrypted is publicly available knowledge. The recommended method for this is PGP - Pretty Good Privacy. It is one of the most time tested and respected methods and is available commercially from PGP corporation or without charge from many open source distributors such as GnuPG.

Steganography enables a message to be hidden in another file. So a seemingly innocuous photo attachment may contain a private message d'amour. The recipient would need to know that an attachment needs special treatment, but an eavesdropper would not know that there is more to the communication than meets the eye. My favourite (free of course) implementation is JPHSwin available from http://linux01.gwdg.de/%7Ealatham/stego.html

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