And if you lose the flash drive storing the encrypted files, Encrypt Stick provides a way for you and only you to recover them--if you've exported the encrypted "vault" beforehand to a hard drive or other removable medium.
Move personal files off your PC to keep them out of reach
Encryption software such as the free, open-source TrueCrypt can be run from a flash drive, but the program's developer recommends using Bart's PE Builder if you want to leave no traces of the app and the files it encrypts on the PC you're using. By contrast, Encrypt Stick runs from the flash drive and automatically cloaks the files in its vaults.
The simple Encrypt Stick interface makes it easy to create a vault to store your encrypted files, add files to the vault, and remove any trace of the files on your hard drive, if you wish. The new release of the program adds an onscreen keyboard to thwart keyloggers, and the full $40 version of the encryption utility offers a boss button that lets you lock the files and close the program by pressing a customizable keyboard shortcut.
Perhaps the most welcome new feature, however, is the ability to recover the files in your vault after you've lost the flash drive, although doing so requires the purchase of an additional $40 license (the recovery feature isn't available in the free version of the program).
Encryption made simple
To convert a flash drive into an Encrypt Stick, just download the program and save the executable file to the flash drive. You can then plug the device into any PC's USB port and open the Encrypt Stick executable to run the program. You start by creating a vault, which is simply a secure folder, and then add files to the vault by dragging and dropping or by clicking File > Add Files.
You can store your vaults on a CD or DVD, hard drive, network, or any other medium. The free version limits you to only two vaults and 20MB of encrypted data on the flash drive, but you can create an unlimited number of vaults of any size with the $40 version. (The ENC site provides a feature-comparison page.)
If you store a copy of a vault's contents on such a device, you're protected against losing the files along with the thumb drive, although you'll have to pay for another license. The same password will open the files after you have reinstalled Encrypt Stick on another flash drive. Simply click File > Add Existing Vault and point to the folder in which you've stored the vault backup.
Encrypt Stick even includes its own password manager, although I didn't do much testing of this feature. The program also provides a virtual keyboard to avoid having your keystrokes recorded, but using it to enter a password or any other data is slow going.
You can give your password an expiration date (commercial version only) and set Encrypt Stick to close after five minutes (or the time period of your choice in the paid version). The ability to close the app with a customizable keyboard shortcut, also known as the "boss" key, is likewise available only in the paid version.
The program's search feature helps you find files in your vaults, and your files are compressed as they're encrypted to maximize the flash drive's capacity. Encrypt Stick uses the company's 512-bit polymorphic encryption technique, which ENC Security claims runs at 500 Mbps, or about ten times faster than 256-bit AES encryption.
In my unscientific tests, Encrypt Stick managed to process 28MB of image, text, and Office files in less than a minute. When the transfer completes, the program asks whether you want to remove all traces of the files from the PC.
The vaults you create on the thumb drive aren't visible in Windows Explorer and other folder windows; the files in vaults stored on your hard drive can be viewed but cannot be opened. The program adds the .enc extension to the file names.
Encrypt Stick opened a few indecipherable error messages when I encrypted my 116 test files, but the files all transferred without a hitch. The program provides peace of mind by storing your private files safely on a portable storage device while also making it possible to recover the files should that device ever be lost or stolen.