How to encrypt images

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In the same way you can encrypt your emails or back up your digital documents in an encrypted vault, you can also encrypt your pictures so that no one else can access them.

This article explains what image encryption means, why you might want your photos encrypted, and a few easy methods, along with instructions.

  1. What is image encryption?
  2. Why encrypt your pictures?
  3. How to encrypt images on an external hard drive
  4. How to encrypt images with cloud storage
  5. How to encrypt images on your PC
  6. How to encrypt images on your Mac
  7. How to encrypt images on your Android device
  8. How to encrypt images on your iOS device

What does it mean to encrypt an image?

Encryption is a mathematical process of securing digital information. Most data on the internet is encrypted in some way, rendering it unreadable so that no one else can access it. 

However, in many cases, the online services you use have the keys to decrypt your data, meaning they can access your emails and pictures.

To prevent this, you can protect your data with end-to-end encryption or zero-knowledge encryption, which are stronger security methods that block even your service providers from seeing your data. By encrypting your pictures on your device before uploading them to the internet, only you or the people you choose to share them with can see your images.

You can click these links to learn more about end-to-end encryption(new window) and zero-knowledge encryption(new window).

There are many services and software programs that make it easy to use end-to-end encryption. Unfortunately, most major cloud storage platforms aren’t among them. For example, Google Photos, Apple’s iCloud, and Dropbox are not end-to-end encrypted by default, and those companies can see your images.

Protect your files with end-to-end encryption with Proton Drive

Why encrypt your pictures?

Using end-to-end encrypted storage keeps your pictures private while still allowing you to store them on the cloud and access them from any internet-connected device. 

There are several benefits to using encryption:

  • Protect your privacy — Many popular cloud storage services can access your images stored on their servers. By using an end-to-end encrypted service, only you have access, and not even the service itself can decrypt your pictures.
  • Control access — Encrypted file sharing allows you to decide who else can access your images. You can protect your files with a password or create a shared encrypted folder on a cloud storage platform.
  • Secure your data — Whenever your data is stored in a way that can be decrypted by someone other than you, your data is not as secure as it could be. End-to-end encryption reduces the risk of hacks and unauthorized access.
  • Comply with data protection laws — Some laws, such as the GDPR(new window) and HIPAA(new window), require organizations to use strong security measures for personal data. This may include images of medical patients or of documents containing personal information.

Six ways to encrypt images

If you’re looking for simple steps to securely archive your pictures, there are a few ways to do this. You can back up your photos on an encrypted hard drive, upload them to an encrypted cloud drive, or encrypt them locally on your computer or smartphone. We’ll cover each of these options below, including for different devices.

1. External hard drive

There are multiple ways to encrypt images on an external hard drive or USB drive, depending on your preference and the device you’re using. There are three broad methods:

  • Encrypt the entire external hard drive using an encryption system built into your device’s operating system.
  • Use third-party encryption software to encrypt files or your hard drive.
  • Use a hardware-encrypted external hard drive.

We cover these methods in-depth, with links to instructions, in our article about USB encryption(new window).

2. Encrypted cloud storage

Encrypted cloud storage is the easiest and most versatile way to store your pictures with end-to-end encryption. It lets you create an online account and upload your files to servers your storage service provider maintains. From there you’ll be able to access your files from any device.

There are many cloud storage companies out there, so it’s important to choose a cloud storage service that’s safe(new window). Any truly secure platform should use end-to-end encryption, two-factor authentication, and offer strong privacy protections. 

Here’s how to encrypt your images on Proton Drive:

  1. Create a free Proton Account.(new window)
  2. Visit window).
  3. There you’ll be able to upload image files or whole folders. They will be end-to-end encrypted so that only you can access them. Not even Proton can decrypt your images.

Learn how to use Proton Drive(new window)

3. File encryption on your PC

Windows makes it very easy to encrypt files. You simply right-click on the file or folder that contains your images and follow the instructions below:

Encrypting individual files in Windows is simple. It’s just a matter of right-clicking on the file or folder you want to encrypt and following the instructions below.

  1. Right-click or press and hold the file or folder you want to encrypt. Select Properties.
  2. Click the Advanced… button and check the box next to Encrypt contents to secure data
  3. Select OK to close the Advanced Attributes window and then select Apply.
  4. Click OK.

Note: This feature is not available for Windows 10 Home.

Learn how to encrypt your entire hard drive in Windows(new window)

4. File encryption on your Mac

The easiest way to encrypt a photo on your Mac is to move the photos to a folder and then encrypt the folder:

  1. Move the file or files you want to encrypt to a new or existing folder. Make sure you want to encrypt all the files in this folder.
  2. Next, go to FinderApplicationsUtilities.
  3. Open Disk Utility.
  4. In the Disk Utility application, select File from the top menu and select New ImageImage from Folder.
  5. Select the folder you want to encrypt and click on Choose.
  6. In the window that pops up, choose the kind of encryption you want to use. (Both 128-bit and 256-bit encryption are secure options.) Then enter a password. Do not lose this password. If you do not have your password, it will be impossible to recover your files. Click on Choose when you’re finished.
  7. Next to Image Format, select Read/Write and click on Save.

To access the folder again, double-click it and enter your password.

5. File encryption on Android

When it comes to encrypting individual files on Android, the built-in options are limited, and most third-party apps can be challenging to use. However, you can easily secure your files using encrypted cloud storage.

How to encrypt images on Android using Proton Drive:

  1. Install Proton Drive for Android(new window).
  2. Open the Proton Drive app and log in using your Proton Drive username and password. If you don’t have a Proton Account, you can sign up for free(new window).
  3. Tap Files at the bottom or tap the hamburger menu () and select My files.
  4. Tap (+) at the top right and select Upload a file from the dropdown menu.
  5. Select the photos or files you want to upload and tap Open.

Note that this process creates an encrypted copy of your file in your Proton Drive account but doesn’t encrypt the file stored on your device. Remember to delete the local file after ensuring the copy is securely stored in Proton Drive.

6. File encryption on iPhone

Photos stored in Apple’s iCloud are not end-to-end encrypted by default. However, you can turn on end-to-end encryption for some categories of data, including photos, by enabling the new Advanced Data Protection feature. Here’s how to turn on Advanced Data Protection(new window).

You can also encrypt the files stored on your iPhone by going to Settings and selecting Face ID & Passcode. This will encrypt your entire device. 

Another way to secure files on your iPhone is with encrypted cloud storage. Here’s how to use Proton Drive in iOS:

  1. Download Proton Drive for iOS(new window).
  2. Open the Proton Drive app and log in using your Proton Drive username and password. If you don’t have a Proton Account, you can sign up for free(new window).
  3. Tap Files at the bottom or tap the hamburger menu (☰) and select My files.
  4. Tap (+) at the top right and select Upload a photo or Import file from the dropdown menu.
  5. Tap files to upload them or select photos to upload and tap Add.

Note that this process creates an encrypted copy of your file in your Proton Drive account but doesn’t encrypt the file stored on your device. Remember to delete the local file after ensuring the copy is securely stored in Proton Drive.

Secure your images with Proton Drive

Encrypting your images is one of the easiest ways to ensure that you are in control of who can access and view them. 

While there are multiple methods to securely encrypt your photos, the easiest one to use is a cloud storage service that’s built around protecting people’s privacy, like Proton Drive. It automatically encrypts any file you upload on your device before it reaches our servers, meaning we cannot access it, share it, or accidentally expose it in the unlikely event of a data breach. 

Proton applies that same level of protection across all our services, including Proton Mail, Proton Calendar, Proton Drive, and Proton VPN(new window)

Can a JPEG be encrypted?

You can encrypt a JPEG file using the file encryption software built into your device or by using an encrypted cloud storage service such as Proton Drive. Simply upload the file to your account, and it will be automatically encrypted so only you can access it.

How do you encrypt an image with a password?

You can encrypt an image with a password in Proton Drive by creating a free account and uploading your file. Then you can click Manage link and select Protect with password. Learn more about password-protected files here.

How do you encrypt a photo for email?

An easy way to encrypt a photo you’re sending via email is to use an end-to-end encrypted email service. With Proton Mail, your attachments are automatically encrypted. And if you’re sending an email to a non-Proton Mail email address, you can set a password for the email to make it end-to-end encrypted before sending it.

Should you encrypt images?

You should encrypt your images whenever you store them or share them if you don’t want anyone else to have access. Most photo storage providers, such as Google Photos, are not end-to-end encrypted, meaning the company can see your images. You can protect your privacy by using end-to-end encrypted cloud storage, such as Proton Drive.

Can encrypted photos be hacked?

End-to-end encryption makes it much harder for hackers to access your photos on the server side. But your account can still be hacked if someone has access to your device or steals your password. It’s important to enable two-factor authentication to reduce this risk.

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Ben Wolford

Ben Wolford is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in major newspapers and magazines around the world. Ben joined Proton in 2018 to help to explain technical concepts in privacy and make Proton products easy to use.

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