Proton Technologies AG, the Swiss company that originally brought us the very secure ProtonMail, has recently released a VPN client, ProtonVPN. What is remarkable about this offering is that their most basic plan is free! Not just a free trial, but actually free.
What is a VPN and why do I need it?
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, and it is a way of making sure that communications with your devices are secure and are not intercept-able. When you are at home, you can be reasonably sure that your connection to the Internet is secure. But if you are outside your home, for instance at a coffee shop or a library or a hotel, your chances of someone trying to co-opt your data are very high. Using a VPN minimizes this risk. Having a VPN service available should be part of everyone’s data security plan.
There are a large number of commercial VPN clients available for both Mac and iOS on the market, including familiar names like NordVPN, HideMyAss, and ExpressVPN. Most of these services offer a free trial. But ProtonVPN is the only one we’ve found so far that offers an actual free service. Their for-pay accounts offer simultaneous VPN connections, more connection points around the globe, and higher speeds.
Their most basic plan does have some restrictions (like only 1 simultaneous VPN connection per account) but for most people, that is a workable solution. If you have not yet landed on a VPN service for both your Mac and iOS devices, your time has come – this solution is a no-brainer. Their Mac and iOS clients are elegant and very pleasant to use. They offer the ability to save profiles, such as US-FastestService or Germany-MostSecure, and much more, to provide easy, one-click access as you need it.
So – you have a Word, Excel, or PDF document that you want to send via email, but it is sensitive in nature. Now you are wondering if there is a simple way to encrypt that document so that no one can open it, unless they have the password. The answer is YES, and you don’t have to buy an expensive program to accomplish this.
This article will describe how to encrypt your documents using either the 2011 or 2016/2019/Office 365 versions of Word and Excel, and also how to use Apple’s included Preview program to encrypt your PDFs.
Important note!: You should use some other form of technology to communicate the password to your receiver(s), such as a text message, a phone call, or snail-mail. Using email to communicate the password defeats the whole purpose!
Apple’s Preview app can encrypt any PDF file in preparation for emailing or any other file-transfer method.
Open your PDF in Preview and go to the File menu
Hold down the Option key and choose the “Save As…” option.
In the dialog window that opens, you’ll see a checkbox titled, “Encrypt”. Select that and also give your document a slightly different name.
After checking that box, you’ll see a Password and Verify field. Enter your password into each of these and click the “Save” button.
Your newly encrypted PDF file’s desktop icon will now look like this:
The methods Microsoft uses for various versions of Word look different, but the result is the same. You get a password-protected document that is not openable without the password (even by Microsoft).
Open your .doc or .docx file in Word 2011.
Go to the menu File:Preferences and click on the Security icon.
You will be presented with a dialog box in which to enter your password. I recommend NOT entering the password in the “Password to modify” box.
Press the return key to accept your password, then enter it a second time.
Save your document.
Your new file’s desktop icon will look like this:
Word 2016/2019/Office 365
Open your document.
Click on the Review Tab
Click on the “Protect Document” icon
Enter your password in the “Password” field. I recommend NOT entering it into the “Set a password to modify this document” field.
Click the “OK” button and save your document.
Encrypting Microsoft Excel Documents
The methods Microsoft uses for various versions of Excel look different, but the result is the same. You get a password-protected document that is not openable without the password (even by Microsoft).
Open your .xls or .xlsx document in Excel 2011
Click on the Review tab
Click on the “Passwords” icon
Enter your password in the Password box. I recommend NOT entering the password in the “Password to modify” box.
Enter your password in the “Reenter password to open” box.
Click on the “OK’ button and Save your document.
Excel 2016/2019/Office 365
Open your Excel document
Go to the menu File:Passwords…
Enter your password in the “Password to open” box. I recommend NOT entering the password in the “Password to modify” box.
Click on “OK” and reenter your password in the “Reenter your password to edit” box and click OK and Save your document.
What about everything else?
The simplest way to encrypt other documents is to use an app that can password-protect your compressed .zip file (which the Mac does not do natively).
Keka is free from their website, or $2.99 from the App Store. It is simple and easy to use. Make sure to review their Help menu to get started. WINZip is free for a limited time, and although its interface feels complicated and dated, it does work.
Practice Makes Perfect
Once you’ve gone through these procedures once or twice they will probably feel much easier for you. But if not, Contact Us, and we will be happy to walk you through all of it!
You secure your valuables – your wallets, keys, and homes. You know that, if left unsecured, they can easily be a target for criminals. So it makes sense to think the same way about the information stored on all your electronic devices.
Computers, tablets, phones and other personal devices hold your emails and your financial and tax documents (with your Social Security numbers). Criminals who get access to this valuable information can commit identity theft, put harmful software on your devices, or both.
What’s one easy way to help protect all of this sensitive information? Update your software regularly, and as soon as possible when a newer version comes out. What’s an even easier way? Set the updates to happen automatically. Don’t ignore reminders to update. Criminals look to exploit vulnerabilities before the software companies can fix it. Delaying gives hackers time to access your information – even when a patch is out there to lock them out.
So what software should you be updating?
Security software. Whether you use antivirus or firewall programs that were pre-installed on your device or that you bought on your own, make sure they’re up to date.
Operating system software. Your operating system could be Windows, Apple OS, etc. If you’re not sure how to update your operating system, go to the website of your device manufacturer for help.
Internet browsers and apps. Both are access points for criminals to enter your devices, so it’s important to keep them secure.
For browsers, the Safari and Google Chrome browsers update themselves. For Firefox, go to the Firefox menu and choose “About Firefox” which will open a window and offer to download the latest update (if pending).
For iPhones and iPads, go to Settings:General:Software Update and turn on Automatic Updates.
For MacOS, we recommend going to System Preferences:Software Update and clicking on the Advanced… button (you will need to enter your Admin password) and setting your preferences this way, so that only the most major updates won’t be automatically applied for you:
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