Encrypting Files in Windows Vista

By Matthew Murray
You have antivirus and anti-spyware software installed and updated. Your firewall is running and correctly configured. You've secured your wireless router from the prying laptops of your next-door neighbors. You've even set up password accounts for all your family members. If you're still concerned about your sensitive information, there's one more step you can take to make sure your files stay for your eyes only: encrypt them.
If you're running the Business, Enterprise, or Ultimate editions of Windows Vista, you can use the Encrypting File System to keep your most personal documents and data safe. (Note that you can't encrypt some kinds of files and folders, such as system files, those in your Windows folder, or any on a hard drive formatted with the FAT32 file system.)
Here's how to use it:
  1. Navigate to the file or folder you want to protect.
  2. Right-click on it to open up the Properties window.
  3. Click on the Advanced... button to bring up the Advanced Attributes window.
  4. Click the check box next to "Encrypt contents to secure data."
  5. Click OK to return to Properties, then click OK again.
If you're choosing to encrypt a folder, you'll be asked whether you want to apply the encryption just to the folder, or to its subfolders and files as well. Make your selection, then click OK to begin the encryption process.
Depending on how many files you're encrypting, the process could take a few minutes. Once the encryption process has been completed, your files are (by default) displayed in a different color in Explorer windows. You can open, edit, move, or even delete them the way you would any other file—other users, however, can't.
If you encrypt a folder, any file or folder you move into the encrypted folder will itself become encrypted. If you move anything out of the encrypted folder, the encryption remains. You can remove the encryption by one of these methods:
  • Do it manually, the opposite of the way you encrypted the file or folder (by deselecting the "Encrypt contents to secure data" checkbox in Advanced Attributes)
  • Move the file or folder to a hard drive formatted with the FAT32 file system
  • Move the file or folder to another network location
  • Send the file as an e-mail attachment
DON'T LOSE YOUR KEY
The first time you encrypt a file or folder, Vista will prompt you to back up your encryption key, just in case something happens and you lose access to your encrypted files. You should definitely do this—clicking on the prompt balloon will start the Certificate Export Wizard. You can leave all the settings at their defaults, but you'll be required to create a password and specify a name and location for the file you're creating.
Once it's done, you should save the file to something safe and easily transportable—such as on a CD, DVD, or USB stick—so you won't have to worry about being without it if the worst should happen.
If the worst does happen, just access the backed-up key via Windows Explorer, double-click on it, and start the Certificate Import Wizard. (You'll need the password you used when you first backed up your key.)

Reference: http://www.computershopper.com/software/howto/encrypting-files-in-windows-vista

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