If you have been looking to learn more about file encryption, you’ve come to the right place. In this complete guide to file encryption, you’ll learn what file encryption and FIPS 140-2 is, what the best file encryption software is, and what you need to think about when encrypting.

What is file encryption?

File encryption is encrypting data in a file, protecting it from, and making it unusable by unauthorized people. The encryption process scrambles the data within the file, which can only be unscrambled (decrypted) with the right password or encryption key.

Encrypting files has many uses other than to hide personal data from unauthorized people. You can also use it for secure file-sharing or encrypt a USB drive containing critical company information.

What is FIPS 140-2?

FIPS 140-2, Federal Information Processing Standard, is a security standard issued by the U.S. government used to validate and document the standards of cryptographic modules. This standard works as a governmental benchmark for security, which companies adhere to give its users security.

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There are four levels of FIPS 140-2 security. Level 1 is the lowest, most basic security level, requiring no physical security mechanisms more than production-grade components.

Level 4 gives the highest level of security. It detects all unauthorized attempts of physical access, fluctuations in environmental conditions outside normal operating ranges, and responds by zeroing all CSPs (Critical Security Parameter).

Since higher levels of FIPS 140-2 security equates to higher cost and more complicated use, aiming for the highest level (4) is rarely needed. For consumer products, the lowest level of security is often enough.

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How to encrypt a file

There are many ways to encrypt a file. You can use the built-in features within your OS (Windows or macOS) or take help from a software specialized in encryption.

One of the best ways to encrypt files while enjoying reduced file size is by encrypting a zip file. Encryption and compression give you the benefits of both bank-level encryption and an unbeatable way of storing files.

You can encrypt zip files quickly and simply by utilizing a powerful compression tool like WinZip, working to both encrypt and compress files on Windows and Mac.

Select your level of encryption within WinZip and add a strong password to protect your zip file. When you've added a password to the zip file, the content within gets encrypted, requiring a password to decrypt the file and get access to its content.

WinZip features two secure encryption levels.

  • Standard Zip 2.0 encryption
  • AES (Advanced Encryption Standard)

Standard Zip 2.0

Standard Zip 2.0 is legacy encryption that even WinZip themselves consider weak. It is generally safe enough for everyday use to protect files not regarded as top secret or even secret. But the encryption method is easy to penetrate with specialized password recovery tools and skills.

If you choose the Standard Zip 2.0 encryption, don't use data files that need reliable data security, like classified documents or private files. In most cases, use AES instead.

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AES (Advanced Encryption Standard)

The AES encryption is very safe, secure enough for the U.S. Government, who both adopted and sponsored its development. AES encryption is a lot tougher to penetrate than the standard zip encryption, making even successful brute force attacks near impossible with a strong password.

WinZip supports AES encryption in two strengths, 128-bit AES and 256-bit AES. The different numbers refer to the size of the encryption key that protects your files. A larger number has greater security, but in reality – if someone could crack a 128-bit AES encryption, they could also crack 256-bit AES.

But the chances of someone cracking AES is highly unlikely. According to EETimes, it would take a supercomputer 1 billion billion (not a typo) years to crack a 128-bit AES key using brute force.

However, if your password is weak, strong encryption won't help much. Make sure you choose a long, strong password with a mix of numbers, symbols, normal and capital letters. And store your password in a safe location.

Another thing to consider is that keyloggers or other malicious code can get access to your password. Make sure to frequently check your computer for malware and viruses and follow standard computer safety procedures.

How to encrypt a file with a password

Encrypting a file with a password in WinZip is very simple. Start by downloading WinZip and follow these steps:

  1. Open WinZip and click Encrypt in the Actions pane.

  2. Drag and drop your files to the center NewZip.zip pane

  3. Enter a secure password when the dialog box appears. Click OK.

  4. Click the Options tab in the Actions pane and choose Encryption Settings. Set the level of encryption and click Save.

For a very secure, all-around encryption setting, choose 128-bit AES.

Best file encryption software

The best and easiest way to encrypt your file is with specialized file encryption software. And to get the best of two worlds, compression, and file encryption, the best option is to use powerful compression software with built-in encryption features.

You can effectively encrypt and password-protect a zip file using WinZip – the compression software with over a billion downloads worldwide.

Which software to encrypt a file on a Mac?

Are you looking to encrypt a file on Mac? No worries - WinZip Mac is also available to encrypt files on your Mac, with all the features of the Windows version.

Final Words

We hope you found this article useful. And when you decide to encrypt a file, preferably in AES with WinZip, make sure to choose a safe password, scan your computer for malware, and keep your password safe. These procedures make sure that your encrypted files stay secure.

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