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Some files need encryption and some files don't

Andre De Beer asked if certain files on his hard drive need encryption. Some do and some don’t.

If you’re like the vast majority of PC users, you have no need to encrypt everything on your hard drive. Before you decide to encrypt anything, ask yourself this: What would you lose if criminals or the NSA got their hands on these files? If the answer is “nothing,” those files don’t need encryption.

[Have a tech question? Ask PCWorld Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector. Send your query to answer@pcworld.com.]

Of course there are exceptions. If you’re an accountant, a lawyer, or a spy, you probably should have your entire hard drive encrypted. If everything you work on is confidential, then everything has to be protected.

But what should the rest of us encrypt? Bank statements and legal documents, of course. Any file containing your (or anyone else’s) social security number, bank account information, driver’s license, or credit card information should be encrypted.

There’s absolutely no reason to encrypt photos and videos—unless they’re the type of photos and videos that you want to hide from your family.

Yes, I’m aware of the many good arguments for encrypting everything. Multitasking operating systems such as Windows can leak data everywhere. If your entire hard drive is encrypted, those leaks will be encrypted as well.

On the other hand, if your entire hard drive is encrypted, the very act of logging onto Windows effectively opens the vault. Whenever you’re at your computer, the private files are accessible. They could be read over public Wi-Fi, or by a co-worker when you take a break.

That’s why I prefer an encrypted vault that I open when I need it and close when I don’t. (And I never open it when using public Wi-Fi.)

What encryption program should you use? Not so long ago, I would have said “Truecrypt.” But now…well, try these alternatives.

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