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Cloud services such as Dropbox and Google Drive permit users to backup their data and synchronize it across different devices (such as laptops, desktops, mobile phones, etc) using cloud storage technology that resides on servers controlled by those entities.  While a great solution for many users, others are apprehensive or skeptical to entrust their private data to third parties.  Fortunately, it is possible to enjoy the benefits and convenience of cloud storage while maintaining the security and complete privacy of your data by encrypting all of your data before it leaves your computer.

cryptomator encrypt dropbox

 

There are several different third-party encryption utilities that you can use to accomplish the same thing, but of those I have tested Cryptomator is the best and easiest to work with. Cryptomator is an open-source project which means that it's source code is open to review and that makes it easy for users to know that it doesn't have back-doors or exploits built into it.  Cryptomator works by encrypting files on your computer before they are sent to the cloud.  This gives Dropbox and Google zero knowledge of what is contained in your files.  Since your data is encrypted before leaving your computer, it is only stored in its encrypted form on the cloud service's servers.  In the event that your cloud provider's security is compromised or your login credentials stolen, no one will be able to access your encrypted data without the encryption key you used to secure them.

Here is how you can do so in a few simple steps without the need to purchase anything.

 

 Step 1: Download & install Dropbox (or Google Drive)

  • Create your cloud account at the service of your choice (Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Box, etc)
  • Download and install their cloud storage software on your computer (if you do not already have it installed)
  • Create some test files or folders and make youself familiar with the directory structure and how to save files

dropbox folders

 

Step 2: Download and install Cryptomator

  • Visit Cryptomator.org and download the Windows software installation package
  • Make a donation if you want to, or set donation to "0" and continue to the download
  • Install the software using default options, and let it open after installation is complete

cryptomator download

 

Step 3: Create an Encrypted Vault in Cryptomator

  • Launch Cryptomator (if it is not already open)
  • Click the PLUS (+) sign and choose "Create New Vault"
  • In the explorer, navigate to the root Dropbox folder (or other cloud folder)
  • Type a name for your encrypted vault, and click "save"
  • Enter a password twice (write down or print the password and keep it very safe) and choose "create vault"
  • Your vault is now created and ready to use

cryptomator create vault

 

Step 4: Use your Encrypted Vault

  • With Cryptomator open, select your vault from the list and enter the password, then click "Unlock Vault"
  • Cryptomator will now mount your encrypted folder and you can use it as you would any other folder
  • Files saved in the encrypted vault (folder) will be encrypted before being uploaded to the cloud
  • To encrypt files that are already in your Dropbox, move them from a regular folder to the encrypted vault
  • When you finish working on the files, you need to choose "Lock Vault" to close your encrypted session
  • In my example (below), I moved files I wanted encrypted from my regular "Payroll" folder to my Vault

 
payroll folder

The above image shows the regular, unencrypted folder as it appeared in the local Dropbox folder.  After moving the files to the encrypted vault we created, you can see how even the filenames are encrypted (image below).

encrypted payroll folder

 

If you followed the steps in this guide correctly, you now have an encrypted folder full of files stored in the cloud that can only be accessed by you, even if your Dropbox or cloud account is compromised. You are now able to have peace of mind while enjoying the benefits of using your cloud account to backup or collaboration. If you look at your encrypted vault folder on Dropbox's web portal you will see that the files are completely encrypted and reveal nothing (other than file size) about what is contained in the files.  This is ideal for anyone who wants secure and encrypted cloud storage.  I can't stress enough how important it is to have a secure backup of your password or encryption key.  You should keep this printed out in a secure or locked place in case you are forgetful or cannot remember the password you used to encrypt the folder.

encrypted base folder

 

 encrypted cloud folder

 

Cryptomator has several advanced options that you can configure if you want to take advantage of them.  Since I find it most useful to use an incredibly complicated password that would be impossible to type each time, I use the option to "save password" and "auto-unlock on start" and then or a 40 or 50 character complex password which I store in a password manager and then save on each of my computers.  This affords optimal encryption for data on stored on the cloud but keeps it easy to use on each of my computers.  You should not use these options on a public computer or one that you share with another person because it would defeat the purpose of encryption if you set it to automatically unlock in those cases.

advanced options

 

There you have it.  Free, encrypted cloud storage.  If you found this article useful, please share it or tell your friends!  Everyone is safer when we all practice good security.

For those of you who are searching for help because your Windows 10 installation isn't running as quickly and cleanly as it was when you first installed it, I have what could be a pretty simple fix for you.  Occasionally things happen with your computer that can cause your Windows installation to become corrupted.  Boot files may get overwritten or replaced during an update, file permissions can get out of whack, your registry will accumulate random pieces of information from toolbars or programs that you used once a year or more ago, and got left behind during the uninstallation.  A lof of people like to use registry cleaners or tune-up applications.  These are usually destructive in my experience, and cause more problems than they solve.  The very best way to get Windows running properly is to backup files and data, reformat and wipe the computer, then reinstall from scratch, copy your data back onto the computer, and reinstall your programs.  But who has time for all that?  Keep reading for the fix below.
screenshot of Microsoft's page
 
An alternative to a complete reinstallation is to do an "in-place upgrade" which is basically reinstalling the same Windows operating system that you currently have installed over top of your existing installation.  When you do this, you don't have to reinstall your programs, you don't lose your data, but a lot of the things that weren't running correctly on your computer you'll find will be fixed and replaced by pristine Windows files.  In order to perform an "in-place upgrade", follow these steps:
  1. Backup your data to an external hard drive to be extra safe (you can skip this step at your peril).
  2. Create a bootable Windows 10 Installation USB key using Microsoft's link and directions at the following link (choose Download Tool Now and run it): https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10
  3. Start the Setup.exe file on the USB flash drive you created in step 2.  Do this on your computer while Windows is running.  Do not boot from the USB flash drive; if you do so your only option will be to erase Windows and start from scratch.  You have to start the file from within Windows if you want to upgrade your existing computer.
  4. Follow the prompts, choose to keep your existing data, and let the process complete.  It may take an hour or more to do this, but when you're finished the computer will reboot and welcome you to your fresh, squeaky clean Windows installation and your computer will be all set to use.

Feel free to let me know if you need help with this, or if you come up with some questions during the process.  It absolutely won't fix every problem with your computer but it is a great place to start and it costs you nothing to try.  If after all this you are still having problems or if you do not feel compfortable doing this on your own give me a call of contact us to schedule an appointment and we can get it done for you.

So I sometimes get irritated when I install a new computer with Windows and have to deal with the login menu each time.  For many computer users, they have their own personal system and they do not share the computer with anyone.  If the customer is not worried about security, they can adjust some simple settings that will cause the computer to automatically log in as their user when they turn on the computer.  To access these settings in Windows, the user must click the Start Menu and select run, then type CONTROL USERPASSWORDS2.  The rest of the settings are easily configured from the console that pops up.  And that is how to get your computer to automatically login a user when you start it up.  I can confirm that that works with all versions of Windows from XP to 7 to 8 and even Windows 10. 

control userpasswords2

Some of the most annoying warning messages in Windows are low disk space warnings. With this little trick you can easily disable them and continue to use your hard space as you want to.


Windows warns you on three different occasions with messages related to low disk space:

  1. When free disk space is under 200 MB but larger than 80 MB, system displays 10 second warning once in session: "You are running out of disk space on [drive]. To free space on this drive by deleting old or unnecessary files, click here"
  2. When free disk space is under 80 MB but larger than 50 MB, system displays 30 second warning every four hours or twice per session: "You are running very low on disk space on [drive]. To free space on this drive by deleting old or unnecessary files, click here"
  3. When free disk space is bellow 50 MB Windows will display 30 seconds warning every five minutes, until you clean up and make more that 50 MB of free space: "You are running very low on disk space on [drive]. To free space on this drive by deleting old or unnecessary files, click here"

 

To disable all those warnings open registry editor with:

  1. Start - Run
  2. Type regedit
  3. Click 'OK'
  4. Navigate to [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\ CurrentVersion\Policies\Explorer]
  5. Create new DWORD value and name it: "NoLowDiskSpaceChecks"
  6. Double click on it and Set its value to 1
  7. Close and reboot your computer


"NoLowDiskSpaceChecks" value 1 will disable all disable low disk space checks.

I was frustrated with the results when I tried to compact virtual hard disks from within the Hyper-V Manager using the Edit Disk options because I found that it didn't really do anything to reduce the size of my virtual disks so I resolved to find a better way to do so without using third party tools.  It took me a bit of research to find how to do this but after reviewing lots of different options I settled on the method below.  I like the fact that you don't need to shrink partitions from within the guest operating system and you don't even need to zero out unused disk space as a lot of the other guides recommended.

Make sure that your vhd or vhdx is not mounted or in use by any operating system or virtual machine, and then, from an elevated command prompt enter the following commands:

diskpart
select vdisk file="C:\Hyper-V\sampledisk.vhdx"
attach vdisk readonly
compact vdisk
compact vdisk [running the command twice works better than just once]
detach vdisk
exit

If you didn't get any warnings, your output should look something like this:

Compact Vdisk commands

 

This process reduced the size of my Master Image from 24GB to 15GB and takes seconds.  It may sound too good to be true but I would be very happy to hear back from you if it worked and you had good results with it.

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