As a privacy-conscious Windows user, I like to keep my personal information, such as tax documents and contracts, private and locked away from prying eyes, particularly when such data is bound to be stored in the cloud for safe-keeping on a service like Dropbox or SkyDrive. A good way to do this is to place sensitive document files in encrypted archives. Several applications already do this, such as WinZip and 7-Zip. However, it's never a bad thing to have more choices for software that can do this for you, and Sophos, the security firm, has a freebie that I think is worth looking into.
Sophos Free Encryption
- Title: Sophos Free Encryption
- Company: Sophos Ltd.
- Product URL: http://www.sophos.com/en-us/products/free-tools/sophos-free-encryption.aspx
- Supported OS: Windows 2000, XP, Vista, 7 and 8
- Price: Free
- Rating: 5 out of 5
- Bottom Line: Sophos delivers an excellent freeware utility for securing document files with sensitive data inside AES encrypted archives. The software is easy to use and offers nice features to boot.
Sophos Free Encryption is a tool that works like a zip program, but with the added aforementioned encryption, which is AES-256-bit for good measure. Digging a bit into this product, I noticed a few niceties that the competition doesn't really have in the security department, namely in how it handles passwords and the self-extracting archive feature. For a free tool, this beats its competitor SecureZIP by PKWare, which actually costs money to do the same thing.
The user interface is simple and to the point. It looks much like any ordinary file compression application with a few function buttons and menus. When you go to actually create an archive, simply drag and drop the files of your choosing into the window, then save the encrypted archive.
At this point, you are then asked to type in a password to protect the contents. If the password is not long or complex enough, you will be notified via the small context clue under the text field as you type. Finally, as an option, you can choose to save the archive password you specified inside a secure "password bank". What is especially cool about this is that you can have multiple passwords for many archives and not lose track of them, kind of how a service like LastPass works for web browsers.
In terms of the resulting output, whether it is done as a self-extracting archive or as a native .uti archive file, the password system is pretty interesting when it comes to unlocking the archive. If you type the password in wrong, Sophos Free Encryption throws up a password error and then initiates a password entry delay before you can try again. Every time you type the password in wrong, the delay becomes longer and longer with each successive incorrect entry. This is a great mechanism to fight against brute force password attacks.One more interesting thing that you can do during the archival process is to have the source files securely scrubbed off the hard disk after the archive is created. This can be especially useful for documents containing super-sensitive material that you don't wish to have an evildoer recover easily, like social security and credit card number information.
I am not the biggest fan of Sophos anti-virus products due to the various quirks that can make life a living pain. For example, one time the anti-virus software humorously detected itself as malware after an update and then proceeded to delete itself.
With Sophos Free Encryption, however, the company has done a really great job with this freeware application. Sure, you can create secure archives with WinZip or 7-Zip just fine, but the extra security features that are baked right into the software really takes the cake for me and I strongly suggest everyone give this a try for all of your sensitive documents.
An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Customer Success Professional for Ultimate Software in Santa Ana, California.