Over the weekend I found an article in my RSS reader which said, “This MacBook Security App Uses NSA-Approved Technology.” Whoa. Really? Cool. Or, so I thought. As it turns out, it was more of a promotional article than it was an NSA approved technology for securing a Mac Notebook.
The $20 app was on sale and heavily promoted by a technology website (often they get a cut of such so-called sales). Regardless, I checked it out. The NSA approved technology turned out to be AES-256 bit encryption which is available free. On your Mac.
Built In vs. Added On
Personally, I think the cat is out of the bag, the milk has spilled, the horse has left the barn, and the toothpaste won’t go back into the tube. Those are ways of saying that governments won’t be able to stop encryption, despite heavy-handed intervention in Russia, China, and other totalitarian states. You know, like the good old U.S. of A. Here’s what good encryption does and why the government would like to stop it or own all the backdoors.
Encryption encodes a file (or files or folders of files or an entire computer of files) so that only authorized people with the correct password can open and view the files. How do you encrypt files for safekeeping? How do you share encrypted files with others? Fortunately, there are many, many ways to encrypt files. Here are two. Both easy. Both free. One is better than the other. Either will keep the government and hackers at bay until laws are changed which ban such encryption.
A free but not-so-easy method to encrypt files for storage or sharing is built into your Mac already. Open the Applications folder, then open the Utilities folder, then open the Disk Utility app. You’ll be creating a secure disk image to store files; all neatly and safely encrypted. Click the New Image button in the top toolbar. Give the encrypted disk image a name, select the size, file format, and type of encryption.
When you’re done you’ll be asked to enter the all-important password needed to retrieve the files or share them with others. That step-by-step process gives you an encrypted disk image of files or folder of files that can be sent and shared with others (including Windows PC users) or stored elsewhere for safekeeping.
It’s free, but fraught with a few confusing steps for the average Mac user.
Better And Free
Or, if you just want fast and easy, and don’t want to wade through Apple’s Disk Utility menus, and you plant to send encrypted files to other Mac and Windows PC users, and you’re on a budget, then you can use the free Encrypto app to do much the same thing, but faster, easier, and with similarly secure encryption– drag and drop.
I’m not sure you can create encrypted files much easier than using Encrypto, and kudos to the developers for making it free and available on both Mac and Windows.
Encrypto uses highly secure 256-bit AES encryption. Drag any file or folder of files to Encrypto. Click the big Encrypt button. Add a passphrase to remember or share with others when you share encrypted files. Then share using the built-in Sharing button– Mail, AirDrop, Messages. Encrypted files from your Mac can be sent to Windows users, too. All they need is the passphrase to open the file.
The only negative is that wherever you send the encrypted files– to Mac or Windows users– just make sure they have the Encrypto app installed, too. And, there’s no iPhone or iPad version. That would be a plus, although transferring files to the Mac is a modest step.
That said, simple, secure, and free is good.
Here’s the problem. Governments around the world don’t really want to stop personal encryption. They understand the value to privacy and the need for security. What they want in exchange for letting us encrypt our files, folders, devices, and communications is backdoor access. Think of that as a special key which allows governmental authorities to gain access to our encrypted information.
On the surface, that sounds like an acceptable way to prevent or track terrorism and terrorists. Here is a short list of problems. First, the government gets to decide who and which devices to gain access to. Second, any backdoor access can be lost or stolen which means nobody has security any more. Third, criminals, hackers, and terrorists can write their own encryption which does not carry any backdoor access which thwarts the government anyway.
What we’re seeing is a race between Apple and others who promote privacy and security for individuals and authorities who want access. Already, a Mac, iPhone, iPad (and other devices and platforms) can be fully encrypted and accessed only through a single password. In the future, such encryption may require a combination of voice analysis, facial recognition, fingerprint analysis, and password.
Thankfully, there are ways to keep files and folders even more private with free encryption tools such as Encrypto. In the future such applications may be banned or required to give keys to the government as Russia wants to do in the case of the popular and highly secure Telegram messaging app.