When combined with a powerful algorithm and a password (or a key-file), data encryption is an extremely powerful way of securing your data. TrueCrypt is still one of my favorites because of its cross-platform support, features plus it’s an open source tool.
When talking about TrueCrypt, it encrypts your data in its own way. First it creates a ‘container’ file (sort of a disc image) and then you can mount it and add files to it and they will be encrypted on the fly. However, with TrueCrypt, encrypting individual files quickly can be a bit hectic as you first have to open and mount the virtual drive that contains your data and then copy the files over there.
So if you’re looking for another powerful, open source (GNU GPL licensed) tool that lets you easily encrypt individual files, then AxCrypt is a very handy tool that you should try.
Main features …
*. Only support the AES encryption (128-bit), but it’s a pretty powerful one though.
*. It doesn’t even have a UI window so to speak but it rather integrates into the Windows file Explorer’s context click menu. So once installed, just right click on the file that you want to secure, and choose “Encrypt/Decrypt” and you’re done!.
*. Use either a password or a “Key-File”.
What is a Key-file?
In data encryption, as mentioned before, choosing a powerful encryption algorithm and a powerful password play a crucial role while securing your data. So rather than using a password that contains 6-8 easy to remember characters, if you could use something that’s quite long (such as 30-40 characters), then it will make it really difficult for someone to break the encryption. However, the problem with such a password is that, it’s really hard to remember.
So as a way around it, in data encryption, you can use a “key-file”. A key-file is a plain text file that holds a long password (which contains numbers and other symbols etc). Because it is saved in a text file, you no longer need to remember the password and can use that text file when needed.
A sample “key-file” that AxCrypt generated for me …
2uE2 JG9X XiJ5 sOk+ zaE/ sIOf YiTR vZjd eNtu 9w5c Kk8=
But the thing with a Key-file is that, it’s a plain text file thus it might easily be accessible (unless you’ve encrypted it too).
So as a fix for that, data encryption tools have come with a solution that lets you use both a “Key-file” and a password. It’s like having two keys to unlock a door. To decrypt the file later, you’ll need both the “key-file” and “the password”, using either the key-file or the password alone won’t do it.
But that only applies if you have encrypted the file using both a key-file and a password. Because before encrypting a file, you can choose whether to use both those files or only to use one of them (either the password or the key-file).
Anyway, sorry about the rambling, got carried away a bit ;-). Let me come back to the main features again.
*. Generates “key-files” automatically.
Remember, never put your key-file in the same folder that it’s being used to encrypt which would jeopardize the whole thing!. Always keep it separately. If you want, you can use a powerful single “key-file” for all our file encryption purposes (just like having the same password), but then make sure to encrypt and save in a different location.
*. Remove pass-phrase from the Memory:
When you enter the password (both encrypting and decrypting), AxCrypt saves it in your computer’s Memory. However, since having the password in your RAM (even though it’s temporarily) might not such a good thing to do, you can manually use AxCrypt to remove it whenever you want.
*. Optional to the file encryption, AxCrypt lets you delete a file permanently (without giving the ability to recover it later), also known as “shredding”.
*. Create self extracting encrypted files (very handy).
Let’s say that you encrypted a file and want decrypt it any computer (as long as it uses Window) by as easy as double clicking on it, then AxCrypt lets you do that too. For that, right click on the file that you want to encrypt and from the menu choose: “Encrypt copy to .EXE”.
Now put this file to a USB drive (for instance), and double click on it on any computer and it’ll ask for the password/key-file, once authenticated, you’ll have your file decrypted automatically.
*. Double click and open encrypted files with ease:
As said before, unlike with TrueCrypt, AxCrypt encrypt your data on top of your file system. So if I double clicked on one of my encrypted MP3 files, then after entering the password, the file will be opened by your default app in Windows. However this only decrypts the content temporarily, to permanently decrypt it, just right click on it and choose “Decrypt”.
*. They also have a portable version of AxCrypt. It’s a simple executable that can be launched without having to install. And once launched it opens a simple window and you can encrypt/decrypt data through it. Both the installer (3.2 MB) and the portable version (460 KB) are quite small in size as well.
These are among its main features to mention.
If interested, you can get in from this official AxCrypt home page. Good luck.