More than 12,000 laptops are stolen every week. One way to protect the information they contain is to encrypt the files so no one else can read them.

There are lots of free encryption solutions out there and a recent one we looked at is EncryptStick, from EncryptStick.com. This is software you can put on an external memory device and it can then encrypt any or all of your files: spreadsheets, photos, videos, etc.

The software works by creating “vaults.” The vaults can be located on a camera card, DVD, flash drive, storage drive or your computer’s own hard drive. It’s handier to store your encrypted files on the flash drive itself, since you can take it with you anywhere. If you put encrypted files on your desktop, they’re invisible to others.

You start by downloading the software onto a flash drive or any other external storage. Then create a secret vault by dragging and dropping the files you want to encrypt. To access that vault later, make sure the drive with the encrypt software is plugged in. Type in a password and there it is! If you want to, the original file can be automatically wiped so that only the encrypted one remains. This is especially handy if your computer might be used by someone else, since files that are merely deleted and not shredded can always be recovered.

EncryptStick is free for Windows or Mac for encrypting up to 20 megabytes, or $20 for unlimited use and advanced features, like the “Boss key,” which lets you hide files instantly by typing a quick keyboard shortcut. The free version should be enough if all you want to encrypt are Word documents and spreadsheets. Click “support” on the web site to watch some easy tutorials on how to use it.

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