What files should you encrypt?

Richie Koch

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Everyone has files that need to be encrypted. From intimate personal details to legal and financial documents, your files contain information that should be private and secure.

But many internet services we all use every day are not private. Companies like Google and Dropbox hold the keys to your data and have the ability to access your files. If these services suffer a data breach, the contents of your files are vulnerable. 

The fact that most cloud file storage services retain the encryption keys to your files undermines your security and privacy. Not only can employees access your files, your files can be scanned, turned over to the government if requested, or leaked to hackers in an attack — all without you ever knowing. In one recent incident, files that people deleted from their Dropbox accounts were instead stored for six years(new window).

The best way to guard against these threats is to store your files on the cloud using an end-to-end encrypted storage service. This article outlines the files you should encrypt and how to do it easily and securely.

What files you need to encrypt
How to encrypt your files
How Proton Drive encrypts your files
File encryption is a simple way to protect your data

What files you need to encrypt

In our experience at Proton, people tend to start using file encryption because of some initial use case. You may be trying to send an encrypted email for work or file away some personal financial documents for safekeeping. Below are some of the most common use cases and file types that require encryption.

Banking documents

One obvious use case for file encryption is banking documents. For example, if you’re applying for a loan, your bank or mortgage broker may ask for dozens of highly sensitive documents, including account statements, tax filings, pay stubs, balance sheets, brokerage statements, and identity documents.

An easy way to share files like these is to create a password-protected encrypted folder and share the link with your loan officer or broker. We’ll share exactly how to do this at the end of this article.

Work files

In the new era of remote work, dividing your working time between your office, the local cafe, and a shared workspace is increasingly common. You need to be able to access your work files from anywhere, meaning you need a secure way to transfer them or make them accessible. Putting them on a flash drive is risky because it can be lost or stolen, which constitutes a data breach. Emailing them to yourself is a common solution, but most people don’t use encrypted email at work. 

The best way to keep your work documents secure — and to keep your job in the process — is to encrypt your files.

Hard drive backups

Maybe you’ve heard horror stories of someone losing all their files because of a lost or damaged computer. Our computers contain so many memories, important files, and sometimes even our life’s work. A single accident can cause you to lose them. Everyone should back up their files, no matter what.

Most experts recommend having two physical backups and two cloud backups. In all cases, your files must be encrypted so only you can access them.

Images

One of the problems with modern tech platforms is that they often upload your files to their servers by default. For instance, pictures you take on your iPhone are stored in iCloud, and pictures you take on your Google Pixel are automatically saved in Google Photos. Leaving these default settings in place allows those companies to access every picture you take, including images of your friends, family, children, and more. It also gives these companies access to those images’ metadata, such as where and when the photo was taken.

A more private and secure option is to periodically back up your images using file encryption.

Videos

Just like images, videos contain intimate details of your life. Using file encryption for videos can also protect copyrighted content from unauthorized distribution and viewing in the event of a data breach. 

Documents

Identity theft is an extremely common crime enabled by access to unencrypted personal documents. In 2021 alone, the US Federal Trade Commission received 1.4 million complaints of identity theft(new window). Many of these cases could be prevented by always using strong encryption for the following types of files:

  • Identity documents such as passports, national ID cards, driver’s licenses, birth certificates, and Social Security cards
  • Credit and debit card information
  • Bank statements, brokerage statements, and credit reports
  • Tax filings
  • Business documents such as articles of incorporation or contracts
  • Medical and benefits records
  • Insurance policies
  • Wills and estate documents
  • Court records

PDFs

PDF is one of the most common file types, and many important documents are stored as a PDF. Most contracts are executed online nowadays in the form of PDFs. You probably also have invoices, receipts, medical records, bank statements, and other sensitive files stored as a PDF on your computer or in non-private cloud platforms. 

Spreadsheets

Another common file type to encrypt is spreadsheets. Often spreadsheets contain sensitive information, such as payroll or customer data, household budgets and expenses, or personal lists. Spreadsheets can be easily encrypted to protect this data from internet companies that might inadvertently leak your information.

How to encrypt your files

People typically store their files directly on their hard drive, in the mailbox of their email service provider, and in a cloud file storage service. In most cases, this kind of file storage offers some level of encryption. Unfortunately, it’s rarely end-to-end encryption.

The encryption offered by most cloud-based storage services like Google Drive will protect your files from being intercepted as they’re being transferred from your computer to the service’s server for storage. But the service provider — and any hackers that compromise their database — will be able to access the contents of your files. 

With end-to-end encryption, only you can access your files because they’re encrypted on your device using a password that only you know before being sent to the server. Think of it like locking your files inside a safety deposit box in the bank’s vault. The bank might be able to enter the vault, but only you have the key that opens your safety deposit box.

Proton Drive uses end-to-end encryption to protect your files in such a way that only you can access them.

While many members of the Proton community create their Proton Account to send a secure email or protect their most sensitive documents, it’s common for people to continue using Proton to send all emails and protect all their documents. 

To encrypt your files, create a free Proton account and then visit drive.proton.me(new window). From there, you will be able to upload files and folders. They will be end-to-end encrypted and securely stored on servers we own and operate, completely inaccessible to us.

How Proton Drive encrypts your files

Unlike other cloud file storage services, Proton Drive is designed so no one can access your files without your permission. You don’t need any technical knowledge to use Proton Drive. Simply upload your files to your account, and they will be end-to-end encrypted automatically and accessible to you on any device.

Proton Drive security

Like Proton Mail and Proton Calendar, our encrypted file storage platform uses elliptic curve cryptography to quickly and efficiently secure your files on your device before uploading them to our servers. Proton Drive also uses the OpenPGP standard, which means your files can only be decrypted using a private key that you control.

Our code is open source and audited so that security researchers can verify that our software is as secure as we claim. And Proton is based in Switzerland, meaning your files are protected by some of the toughest privacy laws in the world.

For a more detailed explanation of our security features, see the Proton Drive security model.

What’s encrypted

With Proton Drive, not only are the contents of your files end-to-end encrypted, we also encrypt your file names, folder names, and other metadata. There are no file size limits, so you can store videos and other large files.

Additional features

Proton Drive also lets you share your files with others using secure links. At drive.proton.me, you can generate a link to a file or folder that you can share with anyone. For additional security, you can set a password and an expiration date for your link.

File encryption is a simple way to protect your data

Bank records and identity documents are some of the most obvious files you need to encrypt. But the reality is that all of your data represents a complete picture of your entire life. The theft of all your files would be devastating intrusion — and a potential liability.

Luckily, protecting your files and folders with end-to-end encryption is practically effortless. You can back up all your documents, images, videos, and more with just a few clicks. And with Proton Drive, it’s free to get started right now.

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Richie Koch

Prior to joining Proton, Richie spent several years working on tech solutions in the developing world. He joined the Proton team to advance the rights of online privacy and freedom.

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