(Credit: Signal)

With reports of governments spying on their citizens -- and spying on each other -- using encryption to secure our files and communications is an important step in guarding your data and privacy and staying secure. You can find dedicated tools to encrypt files, hard drives, Internet traffic, and data stored in the cloud as well as encrypted text messaging apps and email services.

SEE: Stay private and protected with the best Firefox security extensions

VeraCrypt for Windows disk encryption

The Windows Bitlocker full disk encryption tool lets you encrypt the contents of your hard drive to guard against someone accessing your computer and stealing your data. If you'd rather put your trust in an open-source tool, VeraCrypt (Windows) is a respected free full-disk encryption software for Windows. It's based on the no-longer-maintained TrueCrypt tool.

(Credit: VeraCrypt)

IVPN for a Windows VPN

A VPN, or virtual private network, creates a secure tunnel through the Internet, encrypting your data as it travels over a public network. A VPN can skirt geographical content restrictions and evade content filtering and censorship. You can find free and paid VPNs, but unless your needs are slight, it's worth subscribing to a trusted service. If you are looking for a virtual private network, for $8.33 a month, you can run the respected IVPN (Windows) on three devices -- including Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android -- and get access to nearly three dozen servers in 13 regions.

(Credit: IVPN)

ProtonMail for an encrypted Windows email service

While Gmail does a good job of protecting your privacy, it does scan your email to display relevant ads. (Google goes out of its way to tell you no one is reading your email, however.) But if the thought of your email being automatically scanned makes you nervous, check out an email service like ProtonMail (Windows), which keeps your email encrypted end to end -- from you, to its servers, to your recipient. ProtonMail offers free end-to-end email encryption via iOS and Android apps and web-based email.

(Credit: ProtonMail)

Cryptomator to encrypt files on your current cloud service

Google and other major cloud services may encrypt what you store on their cloud servers, but you often have limited control over how your data gets encrypted and who can decrypt it. If you want more control, check out Cryptomator (Windows), which lets you store encrypted files on Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and other cloud services. The free Cryptomator software handles file encryption on your side, letting you upload encrypted files to any cloud service.

(Credit: Cryptomator)

Signal Private Messenger for encrypted messaging

Both Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger offer end-to-end encryption for a conversation. And both rely on encryption technology from Open Whisper Systems, maker of its own trusted -- and end-to-end encrypted -- app, Signal (Windows). If you'd like to go to the source -- and you want to steer clear of the privacy mess that Facebook has become -- Signal has iOS and Android messaging apps and a desktop version you can link to your mobile account.

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And you make secure voice and video calls as well as send encrypted messages. The free Signal communications service lets you hold end-to-end encrypted text, voice, and video chats on mobile phones and via a browser extension.

(Credit: Whisper)

Tor Browser for a secure web browser

The Tor browser (Windows), from the nonprofit Tor Project, is designed to keep your Internet traffic private, allowing you to surf the web and chat anonymously. Tor consists of a modified Firefox browser and a collection of tools that work together to keep your communications anonymous. The free Tor Browser can help you stay secure and anonymous on the Internet.

If you are looking for something a bit less restrictive but also offers security, the free Firefox browser (Windows) from Mozilla promises to put users' privacy above other objectives. It comes with built-in tracking protection, which you can extend with add-ons. Or check out the Brave Browser (Windows). By default, the free browser attempts to block trackers and ads, and it employs an interesting way to compensate the creators whose ad revenue you are blocking by letting you make anonymous contributions to websites you visit.

(Credit: Tor)

See also

Clifford is an Associate Managing Editor for CNET's He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he sits next to fellow editor Josh Rotter and roots for the A's.