How to use encrypt files in Windows using Axcrypt, Amherst College's recommended encryption software.
AxCrypt is Amherst College's recommended software for encrypting files on Windows PCs. With AxCrypt you can password protect individual files so that only you can access them. This will prevent others from accessing sensitive data on your computer in the case that of malware, loss or theft. AxCrypt protects your files with encryption. Anyone without the right password cannot access the file correctly. A properly encrypted file protected by a good password would take a very long to break into. This is a double-edged sword: while others will have a hard time stealing your files you will be faced with the same impossible task of opening your digital safe if you forget your password. In short: if you lose your password, you lose your data forever.
Please read the instructions for AxCrypt fully before using the software. Also, make sure that you always have a copy of the data you are encrypting on your U: drive or another secure network drive. Mistakes made while encrypting files will lead to permanent data loss.
- To install AxCrypt, first download it from the Axantum Software website (external link to Axantum website). Make sure to choose the download for the type of Windows operating system y our computer has. To check your Windows operating system information, go to the Windows Start button then right click on My Computer or Computer (as applicable).
- Once you have downloaded the software, open the file and follow the prompts to install it, choosing preferred language, agreeing to the license terms, and choosing install location (accepting the defaults is fine). You should agree to automatic updates to the software. Make sure to click Finish to complete the installation.
- To encrypt a file, navigate to the file location and right click on the file name. Click AxCrypt then Encrypt.
- Set a password for the file that you will use to access it. Passwords are case sensitive. There are no password rules to follow but if you set a commonly used password such as "password" or "1234" setting the password will be of limited usefulness. Make sure to have a way to remember the password. If you forget the password you will lose access to the file, there is no way to reset or recover lost passwords set in AxCrypt. If you wish to use the same password for all your AxCrypt encrypted files check the option Use as default for encryption. Do not check the option Remember this for decryption.
- Click OK to set the password.
Access Encrypted Files
- You will probably notice when looking at your list of files that encrypted files look different. For example, "document.doc" may become "document.doc.axx" and its icon would change from a Word document icon into an icon of a sheet of paper with a key in the corner.
- If you double-click on a file encrypted by AxCrypt a prompt will appear and ask you for a password. Enter the password you used to encrypt this file. Do not check the option to Remember this for decryption or you negate the purpose of the password protection.
- Once you enter your password correctly, the application that normally opens the encrypted file (e.g., Microsoft Word for .doc files) will launch and open the file.
- Once open, you can work with your file as usual. Use the Save option to save changes if you want to keep the document encrypted. Use Save As... if you want to make a new copy of the file that is not encrypted.
Note: To open an encrypted file you must double click on it from Windows Explorer (your Desktop, My Computer, My Documents etc.). You cannot open it via the File->Open menu command or the Open toolbar button within applications.
Sometimes you want to revert a file back to its normal, unprotected state with encryption. For example, if you want to save a file to an Amherst network drive, it must not have encryption. The process of removing the encryption from a file is called decrypting.
To remove encrytpion from a file or decrypt a file, navigate to the file location and right click on the file name. Click AxCrypt then Decrypt. Enter your password for the file and click OK.
Do not encrypt data stored on Amherst network drives such as department, indivudal or project network storage, also known as the U: drive or I: drive or on the Storage drive. Data stored on network drives is already protected and secure.
Only encrypt files that are stored on a computer and that also have been backed up, ideally on a network drive. If you do not back up your data you plan to encrypt and you lose your password you will permanently lose your data. Also, in an emergency it may be important that your coworkers can access your data even if you are not available.