University of Oregon

Encryption: the basics


Encrypting files is an excellent way to protect your data from being stolen or compromised. When you encrypt your documents or hard drive, you make the information impossible to read without the password or unlocking key. Research that contains sensitive information (such as human subjects research, names, Social Security numbers and other personal data) should be encrypted to prevent exposure of that data should the computer be stolen or compromised. FERPA and HIPAA policies require that human subject data be encrypted.

For some research and data, encrypting the file or folder may be sufficient. For more comprehensive and encompassing security, encrypting the entire disk may be required. Encrypting the entire disk ensures that the computer can’t be used at all without destroying the sensitive data if it’s lost or stolen.

With any kind of encryption, if you lose the key or forget the password your data will be just as safe from you as it is from anyone else. Also, corruption of the files due to read/write errors or a faulty disk will make the whole encrypted archive or disk unusable. Making a complete and secure backup of the data is strongly suggested.