Need to protect confidential information–student data, staff appraisals, etc.–that you may carry around with you or that are on your laptop/netbook? Then you need to pay attention to these 5 simple tips…school administrators deal with an inordinate amount of confidential data. Given that, why not take advantage of encryption software that makes it easy to keep yourself and your children out of the evening news?
To avoid data breaches, follow these tips:
  1. Never put un-encrypted data on a USB flash drive or laptop. If you must travel with confidential data, then encrypt it using the easiest of tools first. Use AES Crypt–works on Windows, Mac and Linux–to encrypt individual files.
  2. Never leave un-encrypted data available on your school desktop/laptop computer, even if it never goes anywhere. Often, individuals have tons of data available in their workplace but neglect to encrypt it because, well, it’s “protected” simply by virtue of being located at work. That’s no protection. For that reason, if you have large numbers of files, take advantage of a container that can house all your files and folders, protecting them against prying eyes. Or, you can “zip them” and use AES Crypt to encrypt the zipped file.
  3. Never email un-encrypted confidential files to yourself assuming that the files will be safe because you are using https:  school district/organization email.  Instead, use AES Crypt to secure your work prior to transferring it anywhere. If you’re sending encrypted data to another person, don’t email them the top secret password you’ve created. Instead, consider calling them and providing it to them over the phone. You can also take advantage of 7zip compression software to securely “zip” files and encrypt them. Mac users will want to check out Keka, a wonderfully 7zip tool for Macintosh.
  4. Never assume because you’ve “trashed” or “deleted” a file that it’s really gone from your computer and/or your mobile phone, USB flash drive, or whatever device. To ensure the device is clean–so that someone armed with a tool like Recuva can’t resurrect the files–, take advantage of easy to use tools like Eraser, CCleaner or BleachBit. All 3 programs can be scheduled to regularly wipe the “free space” that remains after you delete files/folders on your computer. With Eraser, though, you can shred files at the moment of destruction. Note that AxCrypt also provides this functionality of shredding and deleting files via right-click when you want them gone, but you’ll still want a tool like BleachBit or CCleaner to regularly wipe (Permanently remove) files in free space.
  5. Never send a computer off for disposal whose hard drive has not been wiped. Although you would hope that such a job might be handled by your District’s IT department, I’d recommend you have someone do this before the computer leaves campus. While you could take a variety of steps to shred and delete content on a hard drive, if you leave a computer hard drive intact when disposing it, you risk some data being found. Use DBAN to wipe the hard drive.

Since being a principal can often mean constant change and movement–you know, being re-assigned to a new campus at the whim of higher-ups, although principals embrace such changes with admirable equanimity–make sure you store your data securely. This includes emails locked in MS Outlook PST files, Thunderbird mboxes, and Gmail (how many admins email their “backup” documentation to themselves in the cloud?). For such massive storage needs, definitely consider TrueCrypt volumes. They are easier than you might imagine and work on any operating system (Mac, Windows, Linux).

Are these tips too hard to implement? Too easy? To painstaking? Securing confidential data is part of digital citizenship….

Installing this program is quick and there are easy-to-understand tutorials online:

1) Download the AESCrypt for Windows Program

2) Double-click on the installation file. There’s a tutorial to help you.

3) To encrypt files, right-click on the file you want to work with:


4) To decrypt files, right click on the file you want to work with:


Note that you can email encrypted files to others, save them on an external USB drive, etc. You will need to install AESCrypt on the Windows computer before you can decrypt an encrypted file on that particular computer.

Are you a Mac user? You’ll want to follow my instructions in this blog entry since it will require some work in the Terminal to use AESCrypt…still, it is a cross-platform solution.

Linux? No problem! You’ll want to follow my instructions in this blog entry

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure