The very best free encryption software tools in 2022

Ali Qamar Last updated: June 1, 2022
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Encryption tools are an essential element in any successful personal safety policy. This article shows you the best free tools available on the Internet today.

Our current world is interconnected to a very high degree that even the boldest Sci-Fi writers of the past never imagined. The Internet is, of course, the means of this interconnectedness. And on the Internet, everything is built from the information that the human users provide — even if they don’t mean to. Yes, we mean you, specifically.

Your own private or work-related information is out there, and it could always fall into the wrong hands unless you do something about it. Doing something about it, of course, means taking matters into your own hands and starting encrypting all the data you don’t want available to the world. In this guide, we will tell you about the best free encryption software available today so that you can take a proactive stance regarding your own data and safety.

Top five free encryption tools on the Internet – The quick list

  1. Windows Bitlocker – A reliable encryption tool already bundled with every Windows after version ten.
  2. VeraCrypt – The preferred option of experts who need their encryption done with the best-audited tool in the industry. Available in every operating system.
  3. NordVPN – If security is on your mind, a good VPN service is essential (and by good, you have to pay for it and never use free VPNs). NordVPN is the best VPN out there because of its power, versatility, and reliability.
  4. BCArchive – Among the myriad of Windows-based free encryption tools, BCArchive stands out because of the high degree of flexibility it offers in terms of encryption algorithms.
  5. PixelCryptor – This tool’s unique approach to key encryption and password management makes it one of the best around as it combines innovation with practicality.

Data encryption: What is it?

Data encryption admits definitions from several points of view, from the most seemingly trivial everyday angle to the most refined mathematical intricacies. Let’s start with the practical aspect and say that data encryption is the best way known so far to protect your digital assets and data safe from unwanted third parties –that’s the one thing you need to know for sure.

The encryption process needs two primary ingredients: an encryption key and an algorithm. The latter processes your original information (know as plain text, although it can be anything, not just literal, plain text) and scrambles it. Unfortunately, the best encryption algorithms render an encrypted stream of data that looks like random white noise, so no pattern is discernable to figure it out unless you have both the key and the algorithm to decrypt it.

Encryption renders your information secure from cybercriminals, online threats, and even governments. Encrypted data thus enables the communication of large amounts of information safely through the Internet.

The Ponemon Institute authored the “2019 Global Encryption Trends Study,” which shows that 45% of the world’s organizations surveyed do use encryption in some way to secure their most sensitive data. Unfortunately, most of the attention in the studies goes to institutional encryption. But the fact is that the tools are there for any private user to take advantage of encryption technology at their will. This practice enhances personal safety online by hiding important information from the prying eyes of malicious third parties.

When it comes to critical data, encryption is not a luxury. It’s as critical as the data itself, whether stored in your local hard drive or a cloud server somewhere in the world or traveling in a data stream from your computer to any designated target.

So how do you achieve encryption? What are the tools available out there for you to adopt encryption as part of your standard security policies? Well, there are plenty of those tools available for you; they are free (in fact, most of the best encryption tools is free because it results from open-source projects), and you will be able to adopt them in a heartbeat.

But before we tell you all about these tools in detail, let us give you an essential piece of advice: in most cases, the encryption software will ask you to set a password as your encryption/decryption key. So do yourself a favor and always choose strong and unique passwords.

Remember that if your password turns out to be “protected” or “12345,” even the best encryption protocols won’t prevent a hacker from decrypting your data. Yes, it can be annoying to keep choosing a different password for every task and then remembering or keeping track of them, but the fact is that your encryption security will be as good as your password. This is the only opportunity you have within the whole process to insert a weak link into the chain. Don’t.

Here are some essential tips for creating good passwords:

  • Each password must be unique and strong. Combine the use of both uppercase and lowercase letters along with numbers and symbols. 
  • Don’t choose words that you can find in a dictionary. The most classic password hacking attack is called “dictionary” for a reason.
  • Your passwords must be at least 15 characters long.
  • Do not keep your passwords in a text file, your browser, or any other digital media that could end up online.
  • Use one password for one task only. Never repeat yourself in this regard.
  • Do not give your passwords away in emails, SMS messages, or other ways.

So once we’ve covered that, here’s the beef. We have a list for you that includes some of the world’s best free encryption programs. They will take you a long way in securing your digital life.

14 best free encryption software available today – The detailed list

1. BitLocker

Bitlocker

Windows BitLocker is among the most popular local data encryption solutions. Many users prefer it. It allows you to encrypt a particular partition in your disk or the hard drive as a whole.

The BitLocker tool comes built-in in the latest Windows versions (from Windows 10 on), and it uses AES (128 and 256 bits) to encrypt the partitions in questions. The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is the industry standard for encryption algorithms, and it’s the algorithm of choice in every VPN worth its salt, the military establishment throughout the world, and most of the world’s governmental agencies.

It’s been tested to insane limits, and no group of hackers has found a way to crack it so far –and chances are they will never manage to do so because of the high non-linearity of the transformation matrix at the core of the system. In a world such as digital security, in which no 100% guarantees are ever possible, AES is as close as you can get to having such a total guarantee.

So should you use BitLocker? Well, Windows is nobody’s first choice when it comes to security issues or tools, but it remains the most used operating system at the desktop level, so it’s useless to try and ignore that simple fact. So the answer is yes. If you’re a Windows user and you want to implement encryption to enhance your security, Windows BitLocker is a good option, and here are a few reasons for you to adopt it:

  • It’s easy to use, and it’s already in your Windows OS if you’re on Windows 10 or later, so you don’t need to get any additional software. You already have it, so take advantage of it!
  • You can use it for data breach prevention and exfiltration of sensitive information out of your hard drives.
  • It can encrypt your whole drive. So even if you lose the physical drive, no third party will be able to figure its contents out.
  • Once your BitLocker Drive Encryption is activated, every new file you add to your system gets encrypted automatically, and on the fly, no questions asked, no additional work required.

Before we give you the next piece of advice on BitLocker, let us tell you this: this is a good piece of software that works well, does what it’s supposed to do, and is safe and reliable. That being said, it remains a piece of Windows software, which has consequences.

Because Windows is the OS with the most users, it’s the one that affords the best chances for any hacker to score a hit. Microsoft’s terrible history and general practices on security issues don’t help the matter at all. Consequently, most of the world’s hacking groups put a lot of time and energy into Windows-based vulnerabilities, and they have done their homework with BitLocker as well.

They’ve found a simple way to sniff the encryption keys if your general configuration is not as secure as it should be. Should this be a deal-breaker for you? Not at all. But you do need to make sure that you are applying secure practices and policies at every level of your Windows system. BitLocker is helpful and powerful, but it’s not magic; it needs a safe environment to remain safe itself.


2. VeraCrypt

VeraCrypt

VeraCrypt is another free encryption suite available for Windows, macOS, and, most crucially, Linux.

The software supports AES, like BitLocker. However, it also includes two other powerful encryption algorithms (TwoFish and Serpent) that you can use in tandem with AES to have as many as three encryption layers on a single volume — the ideal tool for those among us who prefer overkill solutions.

VeraCrypt is an open-source project and the number one Truecrypt alternative. That’s because it inherited the mission of TrueCrypt, a previous project of the same time when the developing team abandoned it. Its open code allows external experts to test, audit, and examine the software’s ins and outs. Among the options in this list, this is probably the one that has earned the consensus of the cryptographic community as a reliable tool for encryption tasks.

The project is constantly updating and keeping the software current. The volumes it creates are uncrackable so far, and there’s every chance they will remain so even when and if quantum computers arrive in the industry.

VeraCrypt needs a bit of a learning curve for new users, but it’s an easy tool to learn, and it’s one of the best options you can have if you want an utterly foolproof encryption method.


3. NordVPN

NordVPN General compressed

Many users consider Virtual Private Networks (VPN) the ultimate security service on the Internet. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily so. VPNs are tools, and like any other tool, they can be used correctly or incorrectly, thus achieving or defeating a purpose.

A VPN will increase your security and anonymity if it performs two tasks correctly: hiding your IP and encrypting your traffic. Yes, Tor does that, but remember it does it only for the Tor browser. A VPN gives you those two services for every bit of traffic that comes in and out of your device.

Privacy is a different thing, though. Everything you do online through a VPN network goes through the VPN’s servers. So your vendor knows everything you’re doing. The critical thing is: what vendors can you trust not to misuse that data? The ones who do not collect the said data because they stick to a zero logs policy. This is crucial. You need to understand that privacy, unlike security and anonymity, is not a technological issue but a policy issue. Hence, you need to be aware and choose your vendor accordingly.

It would be best if you always stayed away from free VPNs. Most of them perform poorly anyway, but that’s not the worst problem. They do not practice zero log keeping. They do the opposite because their business model collects user data they can sell to their commercial partners.

The VPN industry has exploded in the last few years so, how can you choose the one you need? Well, in this guide, we will point you to our favorite VPN provider: NordVPN.

NordVPN has an extensive server network. It keeps no logs, its encryption and IP masking are immaculate, speeds are high enough to support HD video streams, it can unlock almost every video streaming platform, it works out of China and other jurisdictions fond of censorship.

To keep it short and sweet, NordVPN performs every trick you could ever want or expect from the best VPNs in the industry, and it does it better than anybody else. The pricing is reasonable too.


4. BCArchive

BCArchive

BCArchive is a free folder encryption for Windows. It has a surprising degree of versatility for a Windows tool. It lets you encrypt a whole folder or an individual file, depending on your preference, with a wide variety of the best encryption algorithms known. Those algorithms include Blowfish-448, Blowfish-256, Twofish, Gost, Rijndael, Serpent, and Camellia-256 — an impressive menu even better than VeraCrypt. We also get many hash algorithms to compete for things and a public key encryption method.


5. PixelCryptor

PixelCryptor

PixelCryptor is a free folder encryption folder. So what is its operating system? You guessed it! It’s for Windows! 

The idea in PixelCryptor’s encryption algorithm is unique in the industry. It uses the pixels of a bitmap file (supports gif, jpeg, tiff, png, and BMP formats). So to perform the encryption, you choose a picture, and its file then becomes both an encryption key and a password of sorts. Decrypting the files in question needs the exact same file to be available for the recipient.

Substituting a password and/or an encryption key for a file saves you the problem of coming up with a secure password, remembering it, communicating it safely to the other party, and all that hassle. Hence, it’s very attractive in many ways.

The software is very friendly and easy to use. Choose “Encode files” from the menu, select the folders you want to be encrypted, click on “next,” and add the image file you’ll use as a password and encryption key. That’s it. And yes, the Hollywoodesque quality in using a nice picture as a means to convey confidential information has a satisfying element of itself.


6. LastPass

Lastpass for encryption

LastPass is among the most popular passwords managers on the planet. Unfortunately, the features are limited in the free option, but it can still keep your passwords secured, as well as your personal data. In addition, this piece of software will enable you to get rid of that physical notebook in which you’ve been keeping all your passwords so far (or any other such resource you’ve used until now, and that’s inherently risky).

The interface is simple, intuitive, and easy to use. In addition, the technological platform includes browser extensions for Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome and mobile apps for Android and iOS.

Upon creating your brand new LastPass account, you’ll get an offer to save the new credentials. In addition, the tool will urge you to set up a unique password, safe and hard to break. If several accounts use the same password, it will ask you to consider using a different password.


7. FileVault 2

FileVault folder encryption software

So you’re one of the happy Mac campers, and you’re looking for an encryption tool that’s tailored to the particular taste that Apple users are known for? Look no further. FileVault 2 is precisely what you want.

This software provides your Mac system with full-disk encryption with AES-128 encryption with a 256-bit key. We know what you’re thinking: why is it not AES-256 instead? How come we Mac users get only half the power everybody else gets? Granted, AES-256 is stronger than the same algorithm in its 128-bit version. But don’t underestimate the power of AES-128. So far, it’s passed every audit with flying colors, and there is no attack known to crack it so far –and that’s not for lack of trying.

There’s one catch, though. Installing it on your Mac is not as painless as you’re used to with all your software, and you will need to see and follow this guide.


8. DiskCryptor

DiskCryptor

DiskCryptor can secure your external and internal hard disks, even the system partitions or ISO images, USB thumb drives, or any other storage device (microSD, for instance).

It’s an open-source Windows project that supports Twofish and Serpent besides AES, like VeraCrypt.

Intuitive, simple, and powerful, it will let you encrypt a whole hard drive just by selecting it and clicking “Encrypt.”


9. 7-Zip

7-Zip encryption

Encrypting a complete partition or an entire disk is not everybody’s cup of tea. However, many users know exactly which files need the extra protection afforded with encryption, so they prefer a tool that can do that specific job. Enter 7-Zip.

This is yet another free and open-source project known for its simplicity, efficiency, and convenience.

It’s based on AES-256 encryption, and if you’re used to software such as WinZip or WinRar, you’ll find it very familiar already. It does the same job, for the most part, but with high-level encryption added for good measure.


10. AxCrypt

AxCrypt

AxCrypt resembles 7-Zip in that it’s also an open-source project, free, and it manages encryption for individual files in a similar way.

Premium versions are available for Windows, iOS, Android, and macOS.

The interface can apply AES-256 efficiently to a single file, a folder, or a group of a set of files with a single right-click.

You can have your files encrypted for a period or have the program decrypt them automatically once they get to their destination.


11. Tor Browser

Tor browser encrypting data online

Very few tools effectively ensure privacy, anonymity, and security online than the Tor browser. It grants you anonymous access to the web and encrypts all your traffic. It also hides your IP address by blocking some popular plugins (Flash, RealPlayer, Quicktime) that can give your IP address away.

The Tor Browser is essentially a version of Mozilla Firefox tweaked to connect to the Tor network. The network provides IP masking and encryption, so the target website you reach has no idea about where you are, and no third party can figure out your activities. If you choose to adopt this browser, you need to know that you shouldn’t mess around with it. Don’t add any plugins or extensions to your Tor Browser because they could defeat the purpose of using Tor in the first place.

Tor is also the door to dark web sites. We’re not saying that it’s something you should be interested in, but it’s one of Tor’s defining features as it’s the only way to see .onion web pages.

When you want to hide your IP and have your traffic encrypted, Tor is the best option by far. But you should be aware of a couple of things. First, the safety Tor gives you applies only to the web browsing you perform using the Tor browser. Everything else you do on the Internet remains exposed. Second, Tor will route your traffic through at least three nodes in the Tor network every time you ask to reach an URL. Each node encrypts and decrypts the data, and the servers can be quite far from each other. The result is that Tor browsing is exceedingly slow. If you’re looking to use this tool for heavily graphic websites or to see streams, you’re trying a spoon on a steak.


12. HTTPS Everywhere

HTTPS Everywhere 600x300

Encrypting your local files or partitions is a good security policy for sure. But it’s not enough. Communications are at the heart of the Internet, so you need to ensure that your communications are not giving your game away to cybercriminals.

In this case, we’re talking about the most common and essential internet operation: web browsing. There are insecure and secure ways to browse the web, and you need to choose the safe option always. And that’s what HTTPS Everywhere can do for you.

HTTPS Everywhere is a browser extension available for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. It ensures that all your web traffic is encrypted at all times so that no digital eavesdropper can make heads or tails of your activities.


13. Silver Key

SilverKey

Silver Key is also a Widows-based free encryption software. This one has the more specific purpose of creating an encrypted package that you can send over the Internet without fear of interception. It can even be self-extracting if you can provide the correct password for a given package (remember our guidelines about passwords). So the recipient does not need to have Silver Key installed to decrypt the information you send them. The cryptographic algorithm is AES-256, which is the industry standard for cryptography, VPNs, and every task that needs the best encryption on offer.

This deceptively easy-to-use program includes many attractive features such as shredding the files after encryption, adding a private message, adding a publicly visible description, and many more.

There are plenty of good free encryption tools for Windows, as it’s the case with almost every software category. However, Silver Key stands out from all of them because it’s convenient to use.


14. Sophos Free Encryption

Sophos Free Encryption

Again, a Windows folder encryptor. This one gives you the extra option to compress your folder, save a bit of space in your storage devices, and make the data transportation process quicker.

Sophos Free Encryption also gives you the ability to create a self-extracting encrypted archive (like Silver Key), which increases the usefulness of the encrypted parcels because the recipient needs no additional software to extract the “plain text” contents. In addition, there’s a friendly password manager included so that you can save and keep track of the password you use for every individual encrypted package.


Online security measures you should consider adopting

As stated earlier, encryption is an excellent security measure, but it’s no silver bullet. Keeping yourself digitally safe needs an integrated approach that includes additional measures to encryption. 

These are the most basic security measures you should practice at all times:

  • Keep your operating system and other relevant software updated with the most recent security patches at all times.
  • Choose a good antivirus suite and use it consistently. Yes, the best ones require paying for a license or a subscription. But think of this as an investment. 
  • Be aware of how dangerous public WiFi hotspots can be. Yes, we all love browsing around the web on our phones, tablets, and laptops while we sip our favorite coffee at Starbucks. Hackers love that too. These WiFi hotspots are not secured by encryption of any kind, so every use is freely broadcasting everything they do to the world at large. The best thing to do about these kinds of environments is to avoid them altogether. If you absolutely must use one of these (on vacation, for instance), then you absolutely need to use these WiFi sites with a VPN. Anything short of that renders you hopelessly vulnerable.
  • Educate yourself. Keep reading the articles you can find on this website, maybe buy a book. You need to be aware of digital security because you can’t hope to have a 100% offline life in this day and age. Continued education on this subject is critical because it changes quickly, and yesterday’s news is useless today.

Why do I need encryption software right here and now?

Data breaches are the bread and butter of today’s hyper-connected world. That, of course, leaves much to be desired, especially if your data gets breached and your security becomes threatened. However, your safety is in your own hands. You have every chance to be proactive and prevent any wrongdoer from using your own data against you.

And how do you achieve the best security possible in your own digital life? Well, that takes a holonomic approach to safety. You need to educate yourself about the tools and resources around you, adopt the correct safety practices, and learn how to use at least the essential tools, such as a VPN, Tor, VeraCrypt, and others. Free encryption tools are one ingredient in this salad. They are fundamental.

Let us be clear about something: encryption tools alone will not give you the full answer. This is no silver bullet at all. Nevertheless, they are an essential part of any successful security policy. While encryption software can never be the whole solution, the fact is that any good solution necessarily includes encryption software.

Over the last couple of years, the new big thing in Internet technology has been cloud storage. Google Drive, Mega, OneDrive, and similar services are all the rage now, and having an account with them has become as essential as having an email address. Consequently, too many users upload personal files to their cloud storage without thinking too much about it and, in some cases, leaving them out in the open.

There’s nothing wrong with cloud storage. It’s practical and valuable; it saves you a lot of hassle and carries around those annoying USB sticks. But it can be utterly risky. And how do you solve this security problem? Well, this is one of the few cases in which one free encryption tool can provide you with the complete solution to your problem.

Conclusion

Being safe online is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. The digital lifestyle is a new feature in the human experience. It’s become very intensive very quickly in the last few years. Consequently, most of us don’t know how to deal with it correctly because it’s nothing we could have learned from our grandparents.

But however new this thing is, or however understandable it can be for any of us to be inexperienced at it, the fact remains that if we get our identity stolen online, our essential working data deleted or corrupted, or the personal details shared out in the open, we will find ourselves in a world of trouble and pain.

As things stand, if you’re going to use a computer at home or your work, a smartphone, or a tablet, then you need to learn at least the basics about digital security as fast as you can.

Security is an attitude, not a recipe. It’s not just about doing one or two things correctly but about being aware of the whole picture. 

Encryption is one of the essential elements in any good security practice (maybe it’s the most critical factor in technological terms). So it’s important to know that it’s available to you as a private user. In addition, there are plenty of excellent software options out there that will enable you to practice encryption with the same degree of quality as the CIA does.

We hope that you’ll find the time to search and download some of the encryption tools we’ve presented you in this guide, play with them a little, and decide to adopt as many of them as your digital lifestyle warrants. Encryption has a reputation as a geeky toy, something quite complicated that only the most advanced users can master. However, we hope we have shown you that the tools in this article will make your encryption experience painless, simple, and straightforward because there’s one thing you should prioritize above anything else when you are online: to stay safe!

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About the Author

Ali Qamar

Ali Qamar

Ali Qamar is the founder of PrivacySavvy, which he started out of the sheer passion for making every internet user privacy savvy. Ali has always been concerned about security and privacy for the general public and is very libertarian. Even before Edward Snowden appeared, he has been a privacy advocate even before Edward Snowden appeared with his revelations about NSA's mass surveillance. Ali graduated with a computing degree from the leading IT college in Pakistan, so he boasts a background in this area. He has an accountable understanding of the technical sides of encryption, VPNs, and privacy. Ali is regularly quoted in the privacy and security reports by the local press. His contributions have been featured in SecurityAffairs, Ehacking, HackRead, Lifewire, Business.com, Intego, InfosecMagazine, and many more publications online. Ali is naturally attracted to transforming things. Read More

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