On encryption for translators



I wrote a chapter about this in the book. Some said it was ‘too technical’ for translators, but in my eyes that has always been the same as saying remembering your PIN number is too technical for card payers. You have to make some effort with security or you allow unnecessary risk. People are notoriously bad at judging risk (myself included), but most of us are happy with insurance arrangements. Good security is akin to a good insurance policy. Invest a little time and money in it, check it from time to time.


Here’s an excerpt from email from a mailing list for translators I’m on:


“A medical company [have] now sent another additional document which requires further steps to be taken by the translator in order to be able to receive work from them. [...] one of the requirements is using an encryption software (for example TrueCrypt, Bitlocker or other) on all PCs.”


They go on to ask how it would affect their PCs and what ‘brand’ of software would be recommended. I took the chance to answer, and will share that answer here. May as well share the things I’ve been reading about for all these years, make some use of it!




If you're just ticking boxes and don't want to get too 'involved' in data security, just opt for the Windows-supplied encryption (Bitlocker). It really will do everything required and won't cause any undue heartache. That's assuming you're running a flavour of WIndows. If not, Macs have a standard solution called FileVault which is a very simple switch-on and forget affair. Both are really highly recommended if there's any chance your machine  could be stolen at any point in its life. Less likely for a desktop, but still, not zero chance.


As someone who's looked into this for several years now, to the extent where I'm wary of *any* third-party services (including the big names), I'd say that is the best direction to go in. I'm assuming you're not a Linux user, but most versions (a.k.a. distros) provide an option much like the above two. Usually on install. Sometimes after the fact. Leave Truecrypt (in particular) and Veracrypt alone if you have access to the options above.


I ought to mention that the maths behind encryption make it extremely hard to crack, depending on a strong password, and so do it is particularly important to make sure you follow the instructions given when enabling encryption to backup the recovery key to at least 2 locations (USB stick, print out, etc.). It typically takes the fastest mainframe computers months to dozens of years of intense full-time computing to reverse the maths used - computers that very few people have access to. The process of finding the multiplication factors of the huge (thousands of characters) prime number generated is extremely time-consuming and more or less impossible for the lay person. So frequent backups, tests of backups etc. are always recommended.


I should also note, for posterity, that your machine is not encrypted when 'sleeping' or on. The encryption keys will be in memory and there is an obscure attack (known unfortunately as the 'evil maid' attack,) that can take these, but if you're concerned about that level of breach you would be in a different situation entirely!


The only other alternative is to use software like 7zip (available on all OSs) to encrypt files and folders individually. It is less convenient than full-disk encryption, but offers more granular control.




I wanted to add, but for the sake of brevity didn’t, a note about current security practices in the translation and small business community in general. They are not what I would call good. But it is relatively easy to secure files and emails, so I’ll probably write a few more posts soon to cover the various options. Sure there must be one or two out there it’d be of some use to.

Thanks for reading. I do translation from French and Swedish to English, so if that's useful to you, feel free to connect and message me on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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