Sunday, October 14, 2012

Axcrypt Encryption Program/Software Review

I've been using encryption software for a few years and there are 2 free programs that I use almost all the time. One of those programs is called Axcrypt.

Encryption is the process of transforming information using an algorithm to make it unreadable to anyone except those possessing special knowledge, usually referred to as a key or passphrase/password. Depending on how strong the encryption is, anyone with access to the encrypted file but without the key or passphrase/password will basically have a "useless" file.

I use a lot of cloud storage or online free storage sites for backup purposes (such as Dropbox,, Google Drive, and Skydrive) and when I want to store sensitive/private/personal files such as tax slips, tax receipts, etc., I find that it is a prudent to encrypt these files before storing them on the internet (or even saving them on my computer). Anyone with access to these files would require my key file and passphrase in order to view the contents of the file.

A key-file is an extra means of protection that some encryption programs support which offers a second level of protection whereby if someone manages to guess your passphrase/passcode, the file is still not usable without a specific file (key-file). This key file is needed to decrypt your file so that it is readable and is used when you encrypt your file. However, using a key-file does carry some risk and that is if you lose the key file or the key file becomes corrupt, your encrypted file is basically useless and the contents are almost irretrievable. Using key-files are great if you have/keep a copy of your key-file on a USB drive and you use a lot of different computers where some of the computers might have keylogging software installed on them. Keylogging software will capture the passphrase that you are using to encrypt/decrypt a particular file but the passphrase is useless without the key-file. Just like someone who manages to get access to your passcode/passphrase but doesn't have access to your key-file won't be able to access the contents of your encrypted file, someone who manages to get a copy of your key-file but doesn't know the passphrase that you used to encrypt a specific file won't have access to the contents of that file.

Axcrypt is a file encryption program for Microsoft Windows. I've used it on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 without any issues. What I like about Axcrypt is that it supports right-click integration with Windows Explorer and it also supports double-click integration which makes it as easy to open, edit and save protected files as it is to work with unprotected files. Something else that I like about Axcrypt is that there is also a standalone program that does not require installation (and can be kept on a USB memory drive) which will allow you to encrypt and decrypt files where you don't have the proper access to the computer to install any programs.

With the right-click integration, I can basically right click on any file and then click on Axcrypt in the shortcut menu and I am able to encrypt the file (or decrypt it), shred/delete the file, or encrypt a copy of the file (among other features).

When encrypting a file using Axcrypt, you are presented with a window where you enter your passphrase twice (first time and then as a verification step just in case you incorrectly typed a passphrase the first time). You are also able to select a key-file for the encryption. When clicking on "OK", the file is encrypted. The toggles for "Remember this for decryption" and "Use as default for encryption" applies on the computer only until you restart your computer.

I find encryption software to be a useful tool especially for people who store personal files on the internet and I have no problems recommending Axcrypt for Windows users since I've been using this program for over 5 years without any issues (other than me misplacing the key-file for one of my encryption protected files and not being able to decrypt this file but this was my fault).

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