How to encrypt your laptop (PC or Mac)

Encrypting your laptop is a way of preventing unauthorised access to the data on your machine. It works by writing the data in a way that is incomprehensible – nobody can read or understand it. Only the owner of the laptop can view the data, using a unique passphrase.

Your data is extremely important, and can often be more valuable than the laptop itself. Think about all of your personal files – documents containing confidential information, passwords, account details and other vital information that could be catastrophic if it were compromised. If your laptop is stolen, the results could be dangerous.

That’s why encryption is something you should consider. Whether you’re a PC or a Mac user, encryption is easy.

For PC users:

TrueCrypt is a free, open source tool allowing you to encrypt your entire hard drive, or just the parts you choose. Firstly, download TrueCrypt by clicking here. Launch the software by clicking on the TrueCrypt shortcut in the Windows Start menu.

You’ll now be faced with the TrueCrypt homepage. Click the ‘Create Volume’ button, located below the list of all of your drives. You’ll be taken to the TrueCrypt Volume Creation Wizard, where you’ll have three options. For this guide, we’ll be sticking to the simplest option. Make sure that the first option (Create an encrypted file container) is selected – this will create the volume within a file. Click Next.

Next, you’ll be asked to create a Volume Type. In this guide we’ll be creating a Standard TrueCrypt volume which should be automatically selected, so just click Next.

After selecting your Volume Type, you’ll be asked to select a Volume Location. You can save the volume anywhere you’d like – it’s essentially just like a normal file. Click ‘Select File’. Choose where you’d like to create the volume (we suggest My Documents, or on a USB drive) and give it a name of your choosing. Click Save. You’ll be taken back to the Volume Location screen – click Next.

At the Encryption Options screen, just click Next. The default algorithms will do the trick just fine – we don’t want to overcomplicate things. You’ll then be taken to the Volume Size screen. You are free to select any size, but bear in mind that it needs to be small enough to fit in the location you’re creating the volume, but big enough to contain what you want to encrypt. We recommend 2GB to begin with – you can always create a bigger one later. Select whether you want KB (kilobytes), MB (megabytes) or GB (gigbytes) and enter your value, then click Next.

The next step is arguably the most important – creating a Volume Password. Read the advice given on-screen on choosing a good password – you want something long and difficult to guess. Your best option is to choose a password that is a random combination of upper and lower case letters, special characters and numbers. Once you’ve decided on a good password, click Next (but be sure to note down your password and keep it in a safe place).

You’ll now be faced with the Volume Format screen. Here, you’ll have to move your mouse around the window as randomly as possible for at least 30 seconds. Doing this will greatly increase the strength of your encryption keys, making them much more secure. The longer you move your mouse around, the better. When you’ve finished, click Format. Volume creation will begin. Depending on the size of your volume, it may take a while. When it has finished, you’ll be prompted to click OK. Do so, and your volume will be created and ready to use! Close the window by clicking Exit.

Now you will have to mount the volume. Mounting takes place before a computer can use a storage device – essentially, it tells your computer that the volume is there. To begin, go back to the TrueCrypt homepage (it should still be open from the volume creation, but if it isn’t, just go back to the Windows Start menu and run it from there). Select a drive letter from the list (it can be any drive you wish), click on Select File and select the volume you just created. Now that you have selected the file, click Mount. You’ll be prompted to enter your password – do so and click OK.

That’s it! The volume has been created and mounted. You can copy files to and from the volume, just as you would with a normal disk.

For Mac users:

Macs have built-in encryption software, making it even easier! Simply go to System Preferences (it may be located in your dock, or you can search for it using Spotlight in the top-right corner), select Security & Privacy and go to the FileVault tab.

You’ll be prompted to ‘Click the lock to make changes’ and to enter your password to continue. Once you click on ‘Turn on FileVault’, you’ll be given a recovery key, which can be used to unlock the disk if you forget your passphrase. Make sure that you note this down and keep it in a safe place because if you lose it and forget your passphrase, your data will be lost. Apple will offer to store the recovery key for you by setting up some security questions to ask. It’s entirely your choice whether you want to store it with Apple or by your own means.

After this, you’ll be prompted to restart your Mac. Once it has restarted, the encryption process will begin, but you’re free to use your Mac while it’s running, and you can check on your progress by going back to Security & Privacy in your System Preferences. The encryption should be finished within a couple of hours.

Once it’s finished, your files will be encrypted, and you’ll need to log in using your passphrase in order to access them.

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