The Easiest Way To Protect Personal Files on OS X from Unwanted Viewers

Computers are more personal today than they were years ago. We store many parts of our life now on hard drives, CDs, DVDs, and USB flash drives. What happens when this data is lost, or stolen? I wouldn’t feel comfortable with someone being able to access my tax returns, financial receipts or vacation photos. Would you?

The best way to protect your data from unwanted viewing is to use encryption. Even better is how easily this can be done. Here’s how to do it:

Creating an Encrypted Volume:

First, before you can protect any of your files you must create an encrypted volume to store them inside. Think of this as a virtual disk. This disk can be any size you like depending on where you want it to be. In this tutorial we will be using a 256mb virtual disk which we will save onto a USB Flash drive. Since these drives are easy to lose or misplace, I heavily recommend encrypting them.

There’s two ways you can go about creating an encrypted volume – using OS X’s Disk Utility or using the open-source TrueCrypt. Here are the advantages and disadvantages:

OS X’s Disk Utility:
- Included with the OS (free).
- Easy to use.
- Will create a secure volume.
- Secure volume won’t work with Windows or Linux.

TrueCrypt:
- Open Source (free)
- Creates a secure volume.
- Customized encryption for super security.
- Will work with Windows, Linux and OS X.
- Due to the custom encryption choices, more difficult for basic users.

Using OS X’s Disk Utility:

1. Open up Disk Utility. It’s located in the Utilities Folder inside the Applications Folder.

2. Click on the New Image Icon.

Encrypted Image with Disk Utility

3. Name your new image.

Encrypted Image with Disk Utility

Note: Do not hit “Create” yet! We have more to do. If you did, delete the image (move to trash) and start over.

4. Set the size by choosing Custom.

Encrypted Image with Disk Utility

5. For this tutorial we will use a 256mb size so enter 256.

Encrypted Image with Disk Utility

Note: For this tutorial, we will use 256mb for using on a flash drive. OS X has other sizes pre-set which you can use if you prefer or select custom and enter your own size.

6. Click on Encryption and choose AES-256.

Encrypted Image with Disk Utility

Note: 10.5 Leopard users will be able to choose AES-256. 10.4 Tiger users can only choose AES-128.

7. Leave the rest of the fields alone.

8. Click Create to create your encrypted image.

9. OS X will prompt you to create a password for your image.

Encrypted Image with Disk Utility

Note: You must use a very secure password for your encrypted volume. Your encryption is only as good as the password you choose.

10. Uncheck the “Remember password in my keychain” box.

11. Click “OK” and your image will be created.

12. Your image is now a .dmg file.

Encrypted Image with Disk Utility

13. Double click to open.

14. Enter your password.

15. Save your private files inside.

Note: You can now move this to a USB Flash drive or burn it onto a CD/DVD as an encrypted backup. Or just leave it on your computer as a safe file storage area.

Remember, this will only work on a Mac. If you need to use this image across different platforms, you can switch the format in Disk Utility to Master Boot Record / MS-DOS FAT but I recommend using TrueCrypt instead.

In Part II of this tutorial, we will create a custom encryption image with TrueCrypt that can be used on Windows, OS X or Linux.

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