A common fear that people (maybe you?) Have about going paperless is that hackers will somehow be able to get access to their private information.

It is not an unreasonable fear, but there are things you can do to protect yourself.

One of the best ways is to use encryption, which just means making it so that you, and only you, can get at your documents.

That way, even if your computer gets hacked or stolen, people will be faced with a strange file that they will not be able to open any matter how hard they try. Think of it as having your critical documents locked away in a safe.

How do you do this? There are a number of different ways, and no end to the number of software packages that you can buy, but here are two completely free solutions that are both great. As with most things, which one you use depends on what type of computer or operating system you are running.

Encrypting Your Files On Microsoft Windows or Linux

If you use Microsoft Windows or Linux, I recommend using TrueCrypt which is a free, open-source disk encryption software.

When you use TrueCrypt, you will be creating a "volume", which just means creating a file that acts like a disk or USB drive. Once you create it, you will put your documents into it.

Here is how it works:

  • First, you download and install TrueCrypt
  • Next, start it up and click Create Volume
  • Choose where on your hard drive you want your TrueCrypt file to live
  • If you know what kind of encryption you want, you can select it. Most likely you will just want to use the default
  • When prompted, you want to select a good, strong password. Remember it . If you forget it, you are in trouble
  • Once you are done going through the prompts, you will be able to select a drive letter that you want this new volume to use. Obviously, pick one that is not being used already.
  • Once you have your drive created and mounted, you are ready to copy / save your documents to that new drive letter

Going forward, any time you need to access your documents, you just use TrueCrypt to mount the drive, and your files will be there all safe and sound.

Encrypting Your FIles On Mac OSX

If you are a Mac user, you can use TrueCrypt too if you'd like, but there is a free solution already built into the operating system.

The Mac feature we will be using has a bit of a strange name: an encrypted sparsebundle.

Concept-wise, it is similar to what we just went through with TrueCrypt. We will be creating a new "volume" which will act as if it is a drive or USB key. We then assign a password to it, and save all our documents to it. Once that is done, they will be protected.

Here is how it works:

  • Go to Applications> Utilities> Disk Utility
  • Go to File and then New Blank Disk Image
  • Give the file a name and choose where on your hard drive you want it to live
  • Give it a maximum size
  • Choose sparse bundle disk image for Image Format
  • Give it a strong password and remember it
  • Once you have gone through the prompts, your disk image will be created
  • Double-click the image in the Finder to open it with your password, and then you are ready to copy / save your documents to that new drive

So, there you go. You now have two options for protecting your documents using encryption. James Bond has nothing on you!

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