updated 04:50 pm EDT, Sat October 11, 2008
PGP Desktop 9.9
Everyone knows that encryption is handy for protecting files from unauthorized users by denying access to their contents. Unfortunately, most people don't use encryption, in spite of the obvious advantages, because it's often too much of a hassle. To make encryption more transparent to the user, a new option is PGP Desktop Professional 9.9.
While some encryption products can scramble individual files, this isn't always an optimum solution, no matter how secure the algorithm may be. The problem is that after creating any file, you need to take an extra step to encrypt it. If you delete the original file, you'll leave traces of it untouched, giving a skilled intruder the opportunity to read all or a portion. For a more comprehensive solution, you're better off encrypting your entire hard disk.
Each time you access an encrypted disk in PGP Desktop Professional, the program works in the background to decrypt data with your key. This can slow the performance of a system, but the performance hit may be worth it in exchange for tighter security.
An alternative or supplement to such whole disk encryption is the use of virtual disk encryption. Essentially, this creates a separate file that mimics a separate disk, where you can store critical files. Access to this virtual disk is protected by your password, and gives you all the advantages of whole disk encryption, but without the performance drawbacks. Now you can choose which files you want to encrypt without wasting time on those that aren't important, such as applications like Safari.
Keeping files safe on your hard disk can be relatively easy (especially if you can lock your computer away from others). However, when chatting through instant messaging, your messages get sent as plain text, which means anyone can intercept and read your communication. To avoid this problem, each person can use AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) in tandem with a copy of PGP. The software will encrypt your messages on the fly, and decrypt them on the other person's computer without any additional effort from either party.
If you prefer a slower way of communicating, i.e. e-mail, the program can encrypt these messages just as seamlessly, performing the task automatically whenever you send something using Mac OS X's Mail program.
If you need to send files to others, you run the risk that anyone can intercept it, so it's better to encrypt them in ZIP format. PGP gives you the option of encrypting a file with a password or your stored PGP key, which encrypts and verifies that you were the person who actually sent the file.
After you create a sensitive file, you may eventually need to delete it. To prevent others from analyzing the disk sectors and retrieving a deleted file, the app can overwrite files or folders with random data. When set for three passes, this "shredder" feature exceeds the media sanitization requirements specified in the Department of Defense 5220.22-M standard. For more security, you can even set the program to overwrite files and folders in up to 49 passes; the more passes, of course, the more time is needed.
With support for encryption algorithms such as IDEA, TwoFish, TripleDES, and the latest government standard, AES, this app should keep your data safe from most parties. If you absolutely need encryption and don't want the inconvenience of encrypting files, e-mail messages or instant messages manually every time, this $99 option can safeguard your system without forcing you to change your computing habits.