My Lockbox and Kruptos Offer Free File Protection

by Joseph Moran

Need a simple way to keep private files private? Here are two freeware utilities that let you do it easily, albeit in significantly different ways.

My Lockbox from FSPro Labs is a utility that's designed to keep your files safe from prying eyes. This free program is compatible with Windows versions from 2000 through Vista. We tested the app on a computer running XP Professional.

My Lockbox is a quick and easy install. The wizard will prompt you to choose a location for your lockbox folder — the default is within your "My Documents" folder — and create an access password (along with a hint in case you forget). Upon rebooting, your My Lockbox folder starts out locked and hidden, and is accessible via a program shortcut that's placed on your desktop. (Inspecting the Properties of this link doesn't betray the location of the My Lockbox folder.)

Double-clicking the shortcut prompts for the password to unlock the My Lockbox folder and then opens a standard Windows Explorer window pointing to it. Here you can put the files and folders you want to keep secure. The Lockbox folder stays unlocked until you log off or restart your system, or until you manually lock it using the program's control panel (more on this in a moment). As a reminder, an open padlock icon appears in your system tray while the Lockbox folder remains unlocked.

Adding files to your Lockbox folder can only be done by opening the folder window first, either through the desktop shortcut or by navigating to it via My Computer or Windows Explorer. Although it's admittedly a minor quibble, we'd prefer that you could also add files to the Lockbox via a right-click context menu option or by dropping files directly on the desktop icon.

Once Lockbox folder is locked, it isn't visible when you view the contents of the folder it's located in (e.g. the default My Documents), even if you've configured Windows to show hidden files. The Lockbox folder stayed both invisible and inaccessible when we tried to use it from another account — including an administrator account — on the same computer, even when we left our Lockbox folder unlocked and ceded the computer to another account via Fast User Switching. (Other users on the system can't uninstall the software since your password is required to do so.)

One scenario where your Lockbox folder can potentially be left vulnerable is if Windows is booted in Safe Mode, in which case the folder can be seen and opened. This weakness can be plugged by accessing the My Lockbox control panel and enabling an option to protect the folder in Safe Mode. (We're not sure why this isn't the default setting in the first place.)

The control panel offers few configurable settings other than the ability to select a hotkey with which to summon it as well as a handful of interface skins.

The bottom line? Although My Lockbox doesn't actually perform encryption and it doesn't make your secured files portable, it does offer a simple (and free) way to protect files on a single system that should be more than enough to thwart inadvertent or casual snoopers.

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Compared to the basic file protection provided by My Lockbox, Kruptos 2 offers a more mobile and much higher-horsepower way to safeguard sensitive data. Kruptos 2 does actual encryption of files and folders (via 256-bit Blowfish), and it throws in a file shredding feature for good measure. Yet despite the program's arsenal of advanced capabilities, it still manages to do well in the area of ease-of-use.

Kruptos 2 is freeware, but donations are accepted. Kruptos is compatible with Windows 2000 and XP (it may also work with Vista, but the developer points out that it hasn't been fully tested on that OS). We tested Kruptos on a system running XP Professional.

After a relatively simple install (Microsoft's .NET framework is required), Kruptos 2 is ready to use. The utility's interface is very clean, with a well-designed menu and large, easy-to-decipher function buttons. But perhaps what really makes Kruptos 2 easiest to use is the fact that virtually all program features are close at hand even when the application window isn't, thanks to integration with Windows Explorer.

To encrypt a file or folder with Kruptos, you need only right click it wherever it happens to be and select Encrypt File from the Kruptos context menu. From there, you enter and confirm a password (and a hint if you want) and then click Encrypt. (From start to finish, a total of four mouse clicks are required.)

Because the length and complexity of your chosen password directly impacts the strength of the encryption key, Kruptos 2 rates it as you type, from Very Weak through Weak, Strong, and finally, Very Strong. This assistance is easy to miss, however, as it comes in the form of barely noticeable text — a more conspicuous method like color coding or a strength bar would help encourage the selection of strong passwords.

Upon encryption, the source file or folder is replaced in its original location with the new encrypted version bearing an .ENC extension, and a scrambled file name as well. (When you encrypt an entire folder, each individual file is encrypted separately while the original folder and its name remain intact.) Encrypted files and folder are easily decrypted using the same right-click context menu, which also allows you to view the password hint or the original file name (upon providing the password, of course). Files can also be decrypted by double-clicking, which provides two added convenience options — the ability to automatically open the decrypted file as well as the ability to automatically re-encrypt the file when you close it.

The standard Kruptos 2 encryption process doesn't allow for easy portability of data since it requires the program in order to decrypt files. Thankfully, however, Kruptos also offers the option (also from the context menu) to create self-extracting files which can be transferred to and decrypted on any computer. The process is almost identical to the standard encryption except that the original file isn't automatically destroyed unless you check a box specifying it.

We had no problems opening self-extracting Kruptos 2 files on foreign computers, but we did have several complaints. First, since Exit is the default option in the decrypt dialog, you must actually click Extract after entering your password — simply hitting Enter will close the window without decrypting the file (which took us a while to catch on to).

Also, although you can specify a password hint when creating a self-extracting file, we could find no way to look up that hint from the self-extracting file. Finally, once decrypted, there's no way to re-encrypt a file if you don't have Kruptos installed.

Kruptos provides enough configuration options to be useful without being overwhelming. If desired, you can turn off confirmation dialogs to streamline the encryption and decryption process and disable the obfuscation of filenames. For speedier performance with large (or large numbers of) files, you can opt for 128-bit rather than 256-bit encryption.

As mentioned earlier, Kruptos also includes a file shredder function to irretrievably wipe data from your hard drive; the developer claims compliance with the DOD 5220.22-M standard, and you can set it from a scale of 1 (the default and fastest) to 16 (the most secure).

Overall, anyone in need of a powerful, flexible, and simple, not to mention technically free — though you should donate something — way to protect data both at home and on the road would do well to check out Kruptos 2.

Pros: Excellent integration with Explorer; powerful 256-bit file encryption; very clean interface with a well-designed menu and large, easy-to-decipher function buttons; portability via self-decryption option

Cons: Mostly easy to use, but some perplexing quirks, such as Exit being default option in decrypt dialog and password hint option but no discernible way to retrieve it for the self-extracting files

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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This article was originally published on Monday Apr 21st 2008
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