Have you ever wondered how vulnerable your data is? You’re not alone. Data breaches have become big news and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. But rest assured: there are steps you can take to protect your data.

Encryption protects data whether it’s in our personal computers, our work computers, in data centers, or in the cloud. In doing so it keeps our data from criminal minds. But encryption can be used on a daily basis to protect your documents from anyone: not just malicious attackers.

In this article we’ll introduce you to the types of encryption available to you, then show you how to use it to protect your files, folders, and Office documents.

How it works

Data encryption uses a special program to scramble the data on your computer, and an encryption key to revert it to its prior, readable state. You can use it to reliably protect the files and folders on your computer in Windows 10.

Before you start

There are a couple of things you should check before encrypting your files and/or folders. If you haven’t already backed up your data, do so using an external device that’s plugged in and charging before you start. An interruption of power during the encryption process could render your data unusable. You should also know what kind of encryption is available, and which will best suit your security needs.

Different types of encryption

There are different types of encryption available: BitLocker (an encryption feature built into computers running Windows 10 Pro), file- and folder-level encryption, and document protection through Office. At a basic level, each method is secure, but differs in its availability. It may also differ in how easy it will be to access your data.

Chart of different encryption types

For file and folder-level encryption, you’ll want to confirm that you have Windows 10 Pro—not the Home version.

Determine your license and version

Don’t know what license or version you’re using? Type About your PC in the Windows search box, then press Enter. Scroll down to the Windows specifications section. The version of Windows currently installed will be listed under Edition.

Screenshot of settings about page

How to encrypt a file or folder in Windows 10

Locate the file or folder that you’d like to encrypt, right click it, and select Properties. Next, select Advanced.

Check the box: Encrypt contents to secure data. Click OK then Apply.

If you’re encrypting a file, you’ll be asked if you’d like to encrypt the entire folder. Select the option that works best for you, then click Okay.

GIF demonstrating how to encrypt file or folder in Windows 10

To remove encryption from a file or folder, follow the first three steps in the encryption process above and deselect the box: Encrypt contents to secure data.

How to Encrypt an Office Document

Want to encrypt a Microsoft Office document? It’s easy to do. We’ll use Microsoft Word 2019 to encrypt a document here, but the steps will be nearly identical for all other Office products and versions.

First, open the file that you wish to secure, then select File to open the File menu. From the File menu, select Protect Document, then Encrypt with Password. You’ll be prompted to create and enter a password that will be used to secure your document. Enter your chosen password and select OK. Next, you’ll be prompted to enter your password one more time to make sure you’ve got it right. Put in the password again and select OK to finish the encryption process.

GIF demonstrating how to data encrypt an Office doc

Make sure that you keep your password in a safe place, as it’ll be impossible to open your document without it.

From this point on, any time you’d like to access your protected document you’ll be prompted to use your password to unlock it. When you’re done, save and close the document just as you normally would; you’ll be prompted to enter the password the next time you try to open the document.

No longer need to protect your document? No problem! Simply open the protected document and complete the same password protection process as described above leaving the password field blank.

That’s it! Your files, folders, and Office documents contain important information. Encryption can play a key role in keeping them protected—not just from people looking to break the law, but from anyone.

Find your lost device by enabling Windows 10 to locate it with GPS.