How to Protect your Electronic Documents

 What is Encryption?

Encryption is the method of converting text or data into a code that is unreadable to unauthorized sources. Without the appropriate key (which could be a password or security certificate) an encrypted file would not be readable.

Proper document organization combined with the use of encryption tools can ensure that your sensitive data will remain secure. If you are transporting data physically, you can encrypt the external drive in its entirety. You also have the ability to encrypt specific files - depending on the tool you are using.

When transmitting documents online, ensure that the site you are connecting to is secure, which is typically denoted by HTTPS with an emphasis on the S (meaning Secure). Many browsers will inform you when you are on a secure connection (for example, Chrome will display a lock icon beside the URL) and can provide you details with the level of security and encryption.

  • Microsoft Office provides a few ways of encrypting an individual file, the most common and easiest to implement is a password. In the newest versions of Office, including 2007 and 2010, putting a password on your document encrypts it, while older versions (such as 2003) the password does not necessarily encrypt your file, and there exists a variety of tools on the Internet to break those passwords. When working with an encrypted Office document, ensure it has "X" on the file extension, such as DOCX, XLSX, PPTX.
  • Adobe PDF documents also support encryption when they are being created. Just like Microsoft Office documents, PDF files allow you to set certain restrictions on your document, such as editing, printing and copying data (clipboard access).

Refer to Queen's ITServices on creating strong passwords 

 Encryption Tips

  • Passwords: Many encryption techniques rely on using a password to secure your files and if this password is forgotten/lost, the file may be impossible to get into afterward.
  • Strong Passwords: Passwords should be long, complex and not include dictionary words. Be sure to use special characters, a mix of lower and upper-case letters, and numbers.
  • Unique Passwords: Don't repeat the same password across multiple services.
  • Websites: Whenever possible, opt for a secure connection to any website that you have to submit information to (e.g. banking, email, shopping sites etc)

 Guidelines and Suggested Tools

Encryption should be used when there is any kind of risk of an unauthorized party reading data that you want to keep private or confidential. This could include personally identifiable data, company information or sensitive documents that should not end up in the hands of an unknown third party.

For Queen's users, ITServices is available with a variety of encryption services: ITServices Encryption Tutorials 

Below is just a small sample of some of the tools available for encryption:


External Drives


Safeguarding Your Research

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How to Safeguard your Research and Innovations