Today everyone is on the internet, passing information back and forth. Information sent in a simple email may travel through several servers on its way to each recipient, and every server which it passes through is an opportunity for someone to spy on your message. Likewise, information which you enter in a website may pass through a few servers before it reaches the server where it is finally stored. Each server on the internet which your information passes through is an opportunity for someone to read your information. In the case of wireless internet access, as your information passes through the air it is easy for persons nearby to pull off your information without anyone detecting it.
While some of the information which you send via the internet is nothing which you need to keep secret, there is some information which you may want to hide from prying eyes. This would include credit card numbers, banking information, secret business plans, documents containing passwords or access codes, and personal information which only your employer, The most common technique for hiding this confidential information on the internet is encryption. Encryption is basically coding information so that anyone who hijacks it cannot see what it is. With computers (such as desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets etc) there is usually software which websites or users can use to provide encryption for the information. Before sending information over the internet you should ask yourself “If the wrong person gets hold of this, is anything bad likely to happen?”. If the answer is “Yes”, then you should consider encrypting it.
Not everything may be easy to encrypt, but many popular operating systems on laptops and desktops have utilities and programs which make encrypting files relatively easy. In Microsoft Office products, you can encrypt a document by choosing “Tools”, “Options” “Security” (depending on the version of Office). This allows you to select an option to place a password on the document. Once you do this the document becomes encrypted, and only by using the password which you chose can it be decrypted (decoded). This way you can send the document over the internet relatively safely, knowing that only the person who you give the password to can decrypt it.
There are common products such as Winzip and PKzip which you can use to encrypt files in some operating systems. These programs have been around for many years and work well. With them you can encrypt virtually any type of file (e,g. word processing document, spreadsheet, bitmap, presentation, video file, music files). Once encrypted, you can send it by email or some other method without having to worry about it falling into the wrong hands.
While you can encrypt a file on your own, many websites offer you the opportunity to automatically encrypt the communications between your computer and the website. They do this by using a secure internet protocol. When browsing using this secure protocol you would see “https:\\” in the address bar for your browser. Online shopping websites often utilise secure protocols so that information which you enter (such as your name, address, credit card number and password) cannot be easily seen by those who should not see it.
You must however bear in mind that all encryption is not equal, and when manually encrypting a document there are usually options which you can use to choose how strong the encryption is. Stronger encryption means that persons who have tools to try to break people’s encryption will have a harder time doing so. If the information which you are sending via the internet absolutely must not fall into the wrong hands, you should choose the strongest possible encryption which works for both you and the intended recipient.
Many products require you to supply a password if you wan to use encryption,. Microsoft Office products as mentioned above fall into this category. For such products it is vital that you use a strong password (one that cannot be easily guessed. by man or machine). Unless you use a strong password your encrypted document will easy for a good hacker to decode. You however need to ensure that you do not forget the password, for then the encryption will not only keep bad guys out, it will keep you out as well.