File Encryption with AxCrypt
by Alan German
There is an enormous wealth of free software available from the
open-source community so, when you are looking for a
specific utility, it's not hard to find something that
will readily do the job at hand. When it comes to file
encryption, one of the simpler open-source programs you
can use is AxCrypt from Axantum Software AB in Sweden.
AxCrypt integrates directly into Windows Explorer and,
when you right click on a file, the program provides a
context-sensitive menu. If the file is not encrypted, the
primary option is to encrypt it. Conversely, if the
selected item is encrypted, then the first menu choice is
to decrypt the file. So you can very easily encrypt or
decrypt an individual file. You just need to enter a
password (or a pass-phrase) and remember what you
entered! By default, the program adds a .axx
extension to each encrypted file. AxCrypt will also
operate on a specified folder, to encrypt or decrypt all
of the files contained in the folder.
When encrypting a file, AxCrypt demands that you enter the
desired password twice in order to ensure that the two
entries are consistent. The same password must be entered
before the file will be decrypted. If you don't like
always having to enter passwords, you can have AxCrypt
remember the password for encryption and/or decryption.
There is an option to clear the password from memory, but
the cache is also cleared automatically when you either
logoff or reboot. For even greater security, you can have
AxCrypt generate a random string of characters for use as
a pass-phrase, and store this as a file on a removable
drive for subsequent use.
An interesting option is to create a self-decrypting file
using the "Copy to an EXE file" option. The
resulting executable file can be sent to an individual
who does not have AxCrypt installed on their computer.
Obviously, you also have to send them the password to
decrypt the file (presumably in a separate E-mail
message). Then they just run the EXE file, give the
password, and the unencrypted original file is produced
on their system.
AxCrypt users have some other tricks they can use.
Double-clicking on an encrypted file prompts for the
password, and then opens the file in its native
application. This gives you the possibility of modifying
an encrypted file "on the fly". For example,
you could double click on an encrypted text file
containing a set of userids and passwords. Respond to the
prompt for the AxCrypt password, and the file opens in
Notepad, displaying the plain text. You can then edit the
file in order to change one of the userid/password
combinations. When you save the file in Notepad, the
encrypted file appears back on your hard disk. You just
changed the data contents without having to specifically
decrypt and re-encrypt the file. Neat!
AxCrypt also has a "Shred and Delete" option
that will securely remove any file from your system by
overwriting the file with random data prior to
permanently removing it.
The program is released under the GNU General Public
License (GPL), and uses the Advanced Encryption Standard
(AES) with 128-bit keys. Axantum's web site indicates
that AxCrypt will run under most versions of Windows,
from Windows 95 through XP; however, I can confirm that
it will also run just fine under Vista.
So, using AxCrypt, you can easily encrypt and decrypt
your sensitive files. Just don't forget your password.
There is no undo function!
Version 188.8.131.52 (Open source)
Axantum Software AB
Originally published: January, 2009
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The opinions expressed in these reviews
do not necessarily represent the views of the
Ottawa PC Users' Group or its members.