Encryption: What, When, How

Encryption is the conversion of information into a format that is unreadable by unauthorized users. An encrypted computer file can only be opened by those possessing the appropriate key or password. When an encrypted message is converted back to readable information, it is said to be "decrypted."

When Should I Use Encryption?

Some UWF employees work with confidential information such as Social Security numbers. Those entrusted with this information have the responsibility to prevent it from being improperly exposed, which sometimes requires encryption.

Confidential files saved on your hard drive or a USB key should be encrypted. Confidential information that will be transmitted via email should also be encrypted.

Files saved on an ArgoNet drive (H, I, and some departmental drives) are protected by your ArgoNet password and may not require encryption (depending on the required level of protection).

How Do I Encrypt a File?

The ITS Help Desk supports the encryption options detailed below. Your encryption needs may vary. For assistance determining the best encryption option for your scenario, please contact the ITS Help Desk.

  1. AxCrypt
  2. GNUPG – email encryption
  3. 7-Zip for Windows
  4. 7-Zip/7zX for Mac

7-Zip is an easy-to-use option for the encryption and decryption of files. This option is often used for confidential email attachments. When used in email, both the sender and the recipient must install 7-Zip. When the file is encrypted, a password is selected that must be shared among all individuals accessing the file. 7-Zip can also encrypt a folder containing multiple files.

How Do I Prepare My Computer and Files for Foreign Travel?

Never travel with sensitive information unless absolutely necessary. Foreign governments are known to target electronic media carried by U.S. citizens travelling abroad, and some countries access files upon entry into the country. When travelling abroad, computer hardware and software may require an export license.

U.S. export laws significantly restrict foreign travel with encryption software. If you have to take a computer abroad, use a "clean" laptop that does not include restricted software or data, and then carry a USB key with your information. Another alternative is to use remote desktop to connect to a computer in the U.S. that contains the information you need.


Mobile Data

  • Only certain phones are compatible; each carrier keeps up-to-date records of which countries it serves.

  • Data transfer in foreign countries can be very expensive. It is important to set up applications to use as little data as possible (downloading only message headers, not automatically downloading attachments, etc.).

  • The major U.S. telecoms provide tips to their users on managing data usage while overseas: AT&TVerizon


Recommendations for International Travel

For travelers visiting extremely sensitive destinations and/or using extremely sensitive data:

Before your trip:

  • If traveling to a country which disallows encryption products, remove encryption from your PC or prepare a “loaner” device.

During your trip:

  • If you need to share data with fellow faculty/staff from UWF, use encrypted flash drives to transfer data back and forth.

  • Take a loaner “dumbphone” (no data storage) instead of your smartphone.

  • Shut down devices when not in use (do not use sleep or hibernate features).

  • Keep your device(s) on your person at all times — remember that hotel safes may be compromised.

After your trip:

  • Erase and reformat the hard drive, especially on a loaner device.

  • Wipe data from a temporary “dumbphone.”


For travelers visiting moderately sensitive destinations or using moderately sensitive data:

Before your trip:

  • Ensure your device is encrypted (if permitted by the nation to which you are traveling).

    • Password-lock auto-encrypts iPhones; Android users should manually enable encryption.
    • Laptops: Use BitLocker, PGP, or a similar tool for Windows; use FileVault on OS X systems.
    • “Sanitize” your laptop to remove any sensitive data.
      • A product such as Identity Finder can assist this process.
      • Only take data necessary for the specific trip.
      • Consider taking a temporary device such as a loaner laptop or prepaid phone.

During your trip:

  • Do not use “shared” computers at a business center or kiosk, etc.

After your trip:

Consider changing passwords for all services/systems you used from overseas.


Baseline security for all travelers, foreign or domestic:

Before your trip:

  • Ensure data is backed up on a server, drive, or other device NOT making the trip.

  • Ensure your PC is patched and the antivirus software updated.

  • Disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on your devices, and only turn them on when in use.

During your trip:

  • Assume your data on any wireless network can be monitored, and act accordingly. 

  • NEVER let anyone else borrow or use your devices.

  • Do not borrow any devices (e.g. a USB drive) for use on your computer.

  • Do not install any software on your PC.

  • Be aware of “shoulder surfers” — anyone physically monitoring the use of your device.

  • Keep your devices under your physical control or secured in a proper location when they are not. Never check devices or storage devices in luggage.

After your trip:

Perform a full virus and malware scan