Photography by Hillary Ehlen
The word “encryption” gets thrown around a lot these days, but are you taking full advantage of it?
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Regular old email doesn’t provide encryption in transport or at rest. Popular email services such as G Suite Gmail and Exchange Online will encrypt your emails whenever possible, but there are caveats:
- Google only provides encryption of email while it is stored on their servers, and Exchange Online requires that you exchange security certificates. Only as recently as June did Google announce that Gmail would not be used as input for advertising personalization.
- If you need to send an encrypted message, be sure to understand the features and limitations of your email provider. And if necessary, use a secure service such as Exchange Online, Tutanote or ProtonMail.
Do you keep any private documents on your computer? I thought so. If your laptop is lost or stolen, whoever ends up with it may be able to access your files as easily as plugging in a special cable and copying your files to their computer.
Windows Vista and later and macOS 10.3 and later both include drive encryption, BitLocker, and FileVault, respectively. But they’re not always enabled by default. Protect your data in the event of lost or stolen computers by ensuring that disk encryption is enabled.
Pro TIP: Back up your encryption keys and know your encryption password. IT professionals cannot recover your encrypted data without it!
Like email, SMS text messages do not provide end-to-end encryption. That means that while your text messages may be encrypted as they travel through the air, there are many points between you and the recipient where your message is stored in plain text.
Apple iOS iMessages provide end-to-end encryption. However, if you back up your messages to iCloud, they will be stored on Apple servers, and you must ensure that “Send as SMS” is disabled. Otherwise, your message may be sent as an SMS message. iMessage is also limited to Apple devices.
To ensure your text messages are kept private, use a service that provides end-to-end encryption such as WhatsApp, Signal or iMessage. Facebook Messenger also provides end-to-end encryption, but the conversation has to be created as a “secret” conversation.
When you’re browsing the web, traffic between your browser and the website is not encrypted. If you’re justing looking at cat memes, that isn’t really a big deal. If you’re entering your credit card number or any sensitive information will be passed back and forth, though, you should ensure you’re doing so on a secure connection. Websites that require login with a username and password should always use an HTTPS connection.
Another fringe benefit of HTTPS is that it can help you avoid phishing scams and fake news. The process of obtaining an SSL Certificate (a requirement of HTTPS) is more difficult and costly than obtaining a domain name and scammers usually cannot or do not go through the trouble of obtaining an SSL Certificate.
A secure connection will look similar on all of the major browsers. The URL will start with “https” and there will be a closed lock.