Encryption of files, folders, and drives on your computer means no one else can figure out the data they contain without a specific decryption key, which in most cases is a password known only to you.
So while someone can access your files if they know your password (decryption key), they won’t be able to remove the drive from your system and access what’s on it, or use a second computer to read your data – it will all be gibberish. This means that if your Windows or macOS computer is lost or stolen, you don’t have to worry about someone taking advantage of the data on it.
The way the most popular operating systems handled encryption has changed over the years, and there are third-party tools that give you more encryption options to choose from. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about these options to help you choose the right one.
Built-in options for Windows
Encryption on Windows is a bit more complicated than it should be. First of all, there are differences between Windows Home and Windows Pro editions: Pro users get a powerful encryption tool called BitLocker, but the Home edition has a simpler alternative. It’s simply called device encryption and you can find it by selecting Privacy & Security and then Device Encryption in the settings panel in Windows.
However, not so fast, because this option will not appear for everyone: it requires a certain level of hardware security support on your desktop or laptop computer. It’s all pretty complicated and we don’t have space to go into details here, but windows club there is a great explanation. If you search the start menu for a tool called “system information” and then right-click and run it as an administrator, you can see why your computer does or does not support this feature with the Encryption Support entry devices.”
Assuming your hardware meets all requirements, and Device Encryption the entry is visible, you can click it to see if your system drives are encrypted – they should be the default if you sign in to your computer with a Microsoft account. This means that anyone who accesses your hard drives without this authorization will not be able to see the data on them because they will be encrypted and protected. If encryption is not enabled for any reason, you can toggle the toggle switch to On.
When it comes to external drives and USB drives, if you have a Pro version of Windows, you can use BitLocker: just right-click the drive in File Explorer, select Show more options and Turn on BitLocker, and set a password. However, for those using the home version, this option is not available – you will have to use a third-party tool to encrypt external drives, and we will come back to them later in this article.
Built-in options for macOS
Encryption in macOS is not as convoluted as it is in Windows, but still needs some explanation. If you have a Mac with T2 security chip or Apple silicon inside (for example, from late 2017 or later), then the contents of your system drive are encrypted by default. Your account password is required to log into your computer and for all data protected on the drive.