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-- by Joel T. Patz
Recent publicity about secure transactions over the Internet has once again raised our awareness of the need to protect data. McAfee's PCCrypto offers an easy-to-use tabbed interface (as well as keyboard commands) to let you encrypt data quickly, whether it be a sensitive budget spreadsheet on your hard drive or an e-mail attachment. If you're in the market for an encryption program, PCCrypto provides the security features you need.
At the Encrypt tab, you specify the data and how to protect it. You can encrypt text in the clipboard or create a list of up to 1,000 files to be encrypted into a single file, selecting either the 160-bit Blowfish or 40-bit PC1 algorithm (both industry standards). Only U.S. users will get the 160-bit Blowfish; for now, federal law prohibits exporting encryption technology beyond 40 bits.
Another Encrypt option is to compress data using the LZ77 method before encryption, so the files will be small (a great solution for sending files over the Internet). The program also allows you to create a text file, save the data to the clipboard or create a self-extracting file. The recipient runs the resulting DOS-executable file, the user is prompted for the password (which you've sent ahead), then the user decrypts the file-all without requiring a copy of PCCrypto at the receiver's end.
If your encrypted text file exceeds 600 lines, PCCrypto provides an option to split the file into smaller pieces. This speeds up Internet transmission, and reduces the likelihood that your entire message will be intercepted.
PCCrypto's passwords can contain up to 50 characters-with choices for an eight-character minimum as well as case sensitivity. The password must be entered twice to ensure you've typed it properly. To further increase security, you can create a different password for each encrypted file. Fortunately, you don't have to remember each created password. PCCrypto maintains a log file that lists files you've encrypted, the password and any description you choose. That was alarming until I realized that PCCrypto also encrypts the log file, using yet another password. In theory, that is the only password you'd have to remember.
This utility creates an encrypted file with the ENC file extension and keeps the original. The Wipe tab lets you completely and permanently erase files. An on-screen button lets you automatically add to the list all files that you just encrypted; when you press the Wipe button, only the encrypted files remain.
You can decrypt text from the clipboard or specify an ENC file. Choose the latter option and PCCrypto displays a list of the files within it; you select individual or all files to be decrypted. Like encryption, the decryption process displays a progress indicator. PCCrypto was so fast on my Pentium 133 that it finished in the blink of an eye.
Only in the documentation are you warned about poorly chosen passwords. Even so, it's unlikely that anyone will be able to break into your files if you're using the 160-bit key. On the downside, there's no support for long filenames, but it should be available by the time you read this.
To keep prying eyes away from critical data, such as e-mail attachments or the PIM database on your notebook, PCCrypto is an affordable, well-designed solution.
PCCrypto uses one tab to let you select which files should be encrypted into a single file.