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Encrypt Your Sensitive Data: Windows Systems

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Encrypt your data

How to encrypt a folder

How to use encrypted files

Special situations: Consider using AxCrypt

Other Windows Data Encryption Pages

Back up encrypted Windows files

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UD Information Security Policy

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Encrypt Macintosh data

IT Help Center
Last Updated: 12/1/05
Copyright 2005 University of Delaware

Encrypt your data

Information Technologies recommends that you encrypt the My Documents folder and store all sensitive data inside that folder.

  • When you access encrypted files within the My Documents folder, your computer will automatically decrypt the files in the background and then encrypt them after you save your work.
  • When you encrypt the My Documents folder, the folder name (and file names within it) will appear in green text as in the window below:

    green encrypted folder

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How to encrypt a folder

  1. On the Start menu, click My Computer.
  2. Double-click the C drive.
  3. Double-click the Documents and Settings folder and then open your account folder. You will see a window like the one below:

    account folder

  4. Right-click the My Documents folder.
  5. Select Properties.
  6. On the General tab, click Advanced:

    My documents properties window

    You will see a window like the one below:

    Advanced attributes window

  7. Select the box next to Encrypt contents to secure data and click OK. This returns you to the My Documents Properties window.
  8. Click Apply. You will see a box like the one below, asking you whether you wish to encrypt just the folder or the folder and all its contents:

    confirm how to enccrypt files

  9. Select Apply changes to this folder, subfolders, and files and click OK.

Encrypting the files in your folder may take some time, depending upon the size of the folder.

Note: If you need to unencrypt a folder (e.g., you are cleaning a computer to give it to someone else), follow the steps as above. However, in Step 7, uncheck the box next to "Encrypt contents to secure data" and click "OK."

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How to use encrypted files

  • Names of files stored in an encrypted folder like My Documents will appear in green type. You access these files in the same way that you access any unencrypted file.
  • While you are editing a file in your encrypted folder, it becomes unencrypted. When you save the file in the folder again, it is re-encrypted.
  • The encryption is based on your account for your computer. Should you want to change your password, you must change it through the Control Panel (Users, Change Password). Never reset your password using any other method or you will no longer be able to access your encrypted files.
  • To share an encrypted file with someone, you can copy the file to a removable media device such as a CDRW (rewriteable CD), a USB flash drive, floppy disk, or a Zip disk. When you copy the file to the removable media, the file is automatically decrypted and stored. Since the file(s) on the removable media are no longer encrypted, you should take measures to protect them. Lock the media in a secure location after use or wipe the removable device's contents.

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Special situations: Consider using AxCrypt

  • If your computer is part of a department's Windows domain structure, consult with your department's CITA for encryption instructions. The standard encryption instructions may need to be modified to match your department's network configuration; alternatively, you could use the freeware program AxCrypt to encrypt your files.

    AxCrypt works on individual files, not on folders, but will work on all Windows XP and 2000 systems--even those that are part of a Windows domain structure.

  • The standard Windows encryption does not allow you to share an encrypted file and retain the encryption. If you wish to share encrypted Windows files with other users, use the freeware program AxCrypt to encrypt your files.

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