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Windows 8.1: The Missing Manual by David Pogue

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Encrypting Files and Folders

If your Documents folder contains nothing but laundry lists and letters to your mom, data security is probably not a major concern for you. But if there’s some stuff on your hard drive that you’d rather keep private, Windows can help you out. The Encrypting File System (EFS) is an NTFS feature, available in Windows 8.1 Pro and Enterprise, that stores your data in a coded format that only you can read.

The beauty of EFS is that it’s effortless and invisible to you, the authorized owner. Windows automatically encrypts your files before storing them on the drive, and decrypts them again when you want to read or modify them. Anyone else who logs onto your computer, however, will find these files locked and off-limits.

If you’ve read ahead to Chapter 24, of course, you might be frowning in confusion at this point. Isn’t keeping private files private the whole point of Windows’s accounts feature? Don’t Windows’s NTFS permissions (The Default User Profile) keep busybodies out already?

Yes, but encryption provides additional security. If, for example, you’re a top-level agent assigned to protect your government’s most closely guarded egg salad recipe, you can use NTFS permissions to deny all other users access to the file containing the information. Nobody but you can open the file.

However, a determined intruder from a foreign nation could conceivably boot the computer using another operating system—one that doesn’t recognize the NTFS permissions—and access the ...

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