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How to Protect your Digital Data

Posted In Security - By Techtiplib on Monday, December 8th, 2014 With No Comments »

Operating systems and applications can always be reinstalled, but your data is unique – making it the most important thing on your computer or network. Below is 10 ways that you can learn to protect that data from loss and unauthorized access.

When you think about it, the most valuable thing on your computer or network is the data you create. After all, that data is the reason for having the computer and network in the first place–and it’s the bits and bytes that make up that data that are your first priority when putting protective strategies in place. Operating systems and applications can always be reinstalled, but user-created data is unique and if lost, may be irreplaceable.

Some data is also confidential; not only do you not want to lose it, you don’t want others to even view it without authorization. Exposure of your social security number, credit card, and bank account information could subject you to identity theft. Company documents may contain trade secrets, personal information about employees or clients, or the organization’s financial records.

Protect Digital Data

Let’s look at some ways to protect your all-important user data from loss and/or unauthorized access.

Back up early and often

The single most important step in protecting your data from loss is to back it up regularly. How often should you back up? That depends–how much data can you afford to lose if your system crashes completely? A week’s work? A day’s work? An hour’s work?

You can use the backup utility built into Windows (ntbackup.exe) to perform basic backups. You can use Wizard Mode to simplify the process of creating and restoring backups or you can configure the backup settings manually and you can schedule backup jobs to be performed automatically.

There are also numerous third-party backup programs that can offer more sophisticated options. Whatever program you use, it’s important to store a copy of your backup offsite in case of fire, tornado, or other natural disaster that can destroy your backup tapes or discs along with the original data.

Use file-level and share-level security

To keep others out of your data, the first step is to set permissions on the data files and folders. If you have data in network shares, you can set share permissions to control what user accounts can and cannot access the files across the network. With Window, this is done by clicking the Permissions button on the Sharing tab of the file’s or folder’s properties sheet.

However, these share-level permissions won’t apply to someone who is using the local computer on which the data is stored. If you share the computer with someone else, you’ll have to use file-level permissions (also called NTFS permissions, because they’re available only for files/folders stored on NTFS-formatted partitions). File-level permissions are set using the Security tab on the properties sheet and are much more granular than share-level permissions.

In both cases, you can set permissions for either user accounts or groups, and you can allow or deny various levels of access from read-only to full control.

Password-protect documents

Many productivity applications, such as Microsoft Office applications and Adobe Acrobat, will allow you to set passwords on individual documents. To open the document, you must enter the password. To password-protect a document in Microsoft Word, go to Tools | Options and click the Security tab. You can require a password to open the file and/or to make changes to it. You can also set the type of encryption to be used.

You can also use more advanced software such as the tools available from to both encrypt and password protect your data, adding an extra level of security.

You can also use zipping software such as WinZip or PKZip to further compress and encrypt documents.

Use EFS encryption

Windows 8, 7, Vista, 2000, XP Pro, and Server 2003 support the Encrypting File System (EFS). You can use this built-in certificate-based encryption method to protect individual files and folders stored on NTFS-formatted partitions. Encrypting a file or folder is as easy as selecting a check box; just click the Advanced button on the General tab of its properties sheet. Note that you can’t use EFS encryption and NTFS compression at the same time.

EFS uses a combination of asymmetric and symmetric encryption, for both security and performance. To encrypt files with EFS, a user must have an EFS certificate, which can be issued by a Windows certification authority or self-signed if there is no CA on the network. EFS files can be opened by the user whose account encrypted them or by a designated recovery agent. With Windows XP and later, but not Windows 2000, you can also designate other user accounts that are authorized to access your EFS-encrypted files.

Note that EFS is for protecting data on the disk. If you send an EFS file across the network and someone uses a sniffer to capture the data packets, they’ll be able to read the data in the files.

Use disk encryption

There are many third-party products available that will allow you to encrypt an entire disk. Whole disk encryption locks down the entire contents of a disk drive/partition and is transparent to the user. Data is automatically encrypted when it’s written to the hard disk and automatically decrypted before being loaded into memory. Some of these programs can create invisible containers inside a partition that act like a hidden disk within a disk. Other users see only the data in the “outer” disk.

Disk encryption products can be used to encrypt removable USB drives, flash drives, etc. Some allow creation of a master password along with secondary passwords with lower rights you can give to other users. Examples include PGP Whole Disk Encryption and DriveCrypt, among many others.

Hide data with steganography

You can use a steganography program to hide data inside other data. For example, you could hide a text message within a .JPG graphics file or an MP3 music file, or even inside another text file (although the latter is difficult because text files don’t contain much redundant data that can be replaced with the hidden message). Steganography does not encrypt the message, so it’s often used in conjunction with encryption software. The data is encrypted first and then hidden inside another file with the steganography software.

Some steganographic techniques require the exchange of a secret key and others use public/private key cryptography. A popular example of steganography software is StegoMagic, a freeware download that will encrypt messages and hide them in .TXT, .WAV, or .BMP files.


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