As mentioned in an earlier post, encryption can play an important role in protecting sensitive data that may be on your computer workstation, laptop or backup drives. Encryption makes data unreadable unless you have the key that unscrambles the information according to some algorithm. Think of it like a combination lock that can only be opened if you have the right sequence of numbers.
Encryption plays a key role in both the transmission of data between systems as well as the storage of the data itself. You are probably familiar with Web browsers and SSL (Secure Socket Layer) connections that use the https:// instead of just http:// in their web addresses. If you are connected to a secure Web site, then all data being transmitted between your computer or smartphone and the server on the other end is encrypted. Always make sure any of your connections to financial institutions or email have https://at the beginning of their Web address.
To protect data itself, encryption can be used to protect a single file, a file folder or even an entire data drive such as on a laptop or USB drive. A popular open source solution that works on Macs and PCs is TrueCrypt. Most operating systems for the Mac and PC also come with the ability to encrypt specific files or folders. FileVault on the Mac and BitLocker on Windows are ways to protect files on your workstation or laptop. Both Microsoft and Apple provide brief tutorials how to use their encryption tools. You can find them by searching their respective sites with the name of these tools or to see a sample click on the links above.