TrueCrypt: Free open-source on-the-fly encryption

Reading about others who have fallen victim to a steady stream of exploits has me extra-conscious about security these days. I'm trying to choose better passwords and lock down files with sensitive information. That latter point is especially important to me since I'm storing, transferring, and backing up more files through the cloud.

One of the best utilities for encrypting personal data is TrueCrypt. Using this freeware program, users can create single-file archives that encrypt any data stored in them. What makes TrueCrypt special is that these archives are mounted and accessed just like regular drives in your operating system. That means that you can save files from your favorite application directly into the TrueCrypt volume. You can copy, rename, or delete files using the same file managers you typically use. Once a volume has been mounted, no special accomodations are needed to store and retrieve files in it. It couldn't be easier.

Once the volume has been dismounted, it looks like a single file. That file can itself can moved or copied, and it will take all the encrypted data along with it. The file can be created at a fixed size or grow to accommodate data as it is stored in the volume (a less secure method, by the way). More advanced users may choose to encrypt an entire physical volume using TrueCrypt. This can be done if you want to encrypt an entire hard drive or flash drive, for instance.

TrueCrypt encrypts data using some of the industry's best algorithms, ciphers with names like AES, Serpent, and Twofish, alone or in combination with others. The volumes are password protected, which means, as always, that the protection your files enjoy is only as good as the password you choose. The encryption itself, however, is notoriously difficult to break.

TrueCrypt runs on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS, and volumes can be moved across platforms. It's free to download and use, but they do accept donations.

Two Personal VPN Services: GoTrusted and blackVPN

Business travelers use virtual private networks (VPNs) to connect securely to their offices while they're on the road. The "virtual" part allows them to interact with their corporate network as if they were in the office; the "private" part is provided by encryption so that corporate transmission contents remain secret as they travel across the public Internet.

There are companies that provide VPN services to individuals for a fee. The emphasis here is more on the "private" than the "virtual," but VPNs may still be useful to security-conscious computer users. If you're conducting sensitive activities on an untrusted network (an airport or coffee shop, for instance) then you may benefit from having a personal VPN service.

I have used two VPN services that I liked: GoTrusted and blackVPN.

GoTrusted: $5.99 per month (server in Hollywood, FL)
GoTrusted is designed for simplicity. They provide software to install their VPN client on Windows PCs and Macs, which can be run like a regular application when the VPN is needed.  There are also easy instructions for configuring the VPN on iOS and Android devices in case you'd like to protect traffic on your mobile device also. I was a huge fan of GoTrusted until I upgraded to Windows 7. Now I experience intermittent disconnections while using the VPN client. Unfortunately, it's not always clear that I have been disconnected which I find unnerving. The only thing worse than not having protection is falsely believing that you do.

blackVPN: starts at €5 per month (servers in six countries and growing)
blackVPN is a tad more complicated to set up than GoTrusted, but just as easy to use and far more flexible. It can be configured using simple PPTP or the more secure OpenVPN, and it works on Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, and Android. With blackVPN I get connected quickly and stay connected. Transmission speeds are typically fast enough for me to forget that I'm routing my traffic across a VPN. There are several price points available depending on how many servers you wish to access (one, two, three, or all six) and how long you wish to subscribe (one, three, or twelve months). Please note that the cost is in Euros, so the actual cost may fluctuate along with the currency valuation.

At this time, I highly recommend blackVPN for anyone that needs a personal VPN. They have the best combination of price and reliability that I have encountered in the four different services I have used. In addition, they support a wide range of OSes and connection protocols, meaning that you'll probably be covered no matter what devices you use.

You can get two months of blackVPN service free when you pay for your first month if you use the referral code RUUMTNS on checkout.