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by Ray Carlson and JB Burke

Q. I use Quicken on my desktop computer to manage my banking and investment info, and I also have a file of all my online passwords. I’m worried that someone might break into these files. How can I protect this data?

A. More than ever, we keep our critical personal data on our computers, and it’s vulnerable to theft by malicious online forces. But your data can also be compromised if you take your computer in for repair, no matter how reliable the service facility is. Passwords on applications such as Quicken and MS Excel are relatively easy for hackers to defeat, so that’s not a very good solution. A much better way is to create an encrypted volume using TrueCrypt - a free, open-source program that provides strong encryption for your data. You can create a file on your disk that, when opened by TrueCrypt, looks like another volume (or disk) available in which to store files. If you use a relatively long, complex (letters, numbers and symbols) password, it will be virtually impossible for a hacker to break into your files. And you can even create a volume that is hidden inside another encrypted volume. Very secure, because a hacker won’t know there’s anything to hack.

A word of warning – do not forget the password. The only way to recover it is to try to “crack” the key which, depending upon the quality/length of the password and the speed of your computer, could take from thousands to millions of years.

Published: Courier 2/15/09 - Page 4C