Encryption Made Easy: A Primer for Mac Users

By now (if you’ve read even one or two Law Technology Today posts), you know the importance of protecting your electronic data.  Encryption, of course, can be utilized to secure your data, and in some jurisdictions, is required to secure certain types of data.  If you are a Mac user, you can encrypt data with tools built into the Mac operating system.  This article describes the steps to encrypt documents, folders, hard drives, external drives, and backup devices using Mac OS X Mountain Lion.

Document Encryption

You can encrypt individual documents with Mac’s Print to PDF tool.  The Print to PDF tool uses a 128-bit encryption algorithm.

Step 1:  Open the document you wish to encrypt.

Step 2:  Select File > Print.  Then select Save as PDF.


Step 3:  Select Security Options.  Then set the desired security settings.



Folder Encryption

You can encrypt entire folders with Mac’s Disk Utility application.

Step 1:  Open Disk Utility.  Use Spotlight or access it via Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility.

Step 2:  Select File > New > Disk Image from Folder.


Step 3:  Select the folder for encryption, and then click Image.


Step 4:  To make the folder editable after encryption, set Image Format to read/write.  Then, choose either 128-bit AES or 256-bit AES encryption.


Step 5:  Enter a password.  Uncheck the box for Remember password in my keychain.


Step 6:  Two folders now exist, your original unencrypted folder and your encrypted folder available as a .dmg file.  To preserve only the encrypted folder, delete the unencrypted folder.


To access your encrypted folder, click on the .dmg file and enter your password.  The folder will then be mounted in your Finder window.  When you are finished working with your folder, use the eject button to unmount the folder.


Hard Drive Encryption with FileVault

You can encrypt an entire hard drive with Mac’s FileVault tool.

Step 1:  Open System Preferences > Security & Privacy.  Then select FileVault and Turn on FileVault.


As prompted, save your recovery key and store it in a safe place.  You also have the option to store your recovery key with Apple for backup purposes.


Step 2:  Click Restart when prompted.

You can disable FileVault by selecting Turn Off FileVault in the FileVault tab via System Preferences > Security & Privacy.

External Drive Encryption

You can encrypt external drives, including flash/thumb drives with your Mac.

Step 1:  Select the drive for encryption.  Right-click on the drive on the desktop or in the Finder window.  Then select Encrypt “[NAME OF DRIVE] …”.



Step 2:  Enter a password and password hint.  Then select Encrypt Disk.


To decrypt the drive, follow the same instructions above and select Decrypt “[NAME OF DRIVE] …”.

Note:  The encrypted external drive can only be used with Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion) or later.

Back Up Device Encryption with Time Machine

You can encrypt your back up devices with Mac’s Time Machine.

Step 1:  Open System Preferences > Time Machine.  Then, click Select Disk and select the disk for back up.


Step 2:  Check Encrypt Backups and select Use Disk.  You will then be prompted to enter a password and password hint.


For a primer on data security, check out the following Legal Technology Resource Center resources:

 Featured image: “Safety concept: pixelated Locks icon on digital background, 3d ” from Shutterstock.

About Heidi Alexander

Heidi Alexander
Heidi S. Alexander, Esq. (@heidialexander) is a Law Practice Management Advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program (MassLOMAP), where she advises lawyers on practice management matters and provides guidance in implementing new law office technologies. She frequently makes presentations to the legal community and contributes to publications on law practice management and technology. Follow her on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.

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