Espionage: Intuitive Data Encryption

Security is always a paramount concern when storing a decent amount of information on your computer. Fortunately, OS X is a reasonably secure operating system by default – user data is kept separate, it’s easy to password protect your account, and you can encrypt your whole drive with FileVault if desired. Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to encrypt a particular file, folder or application. This is where Espionage comes in, providing a simple method to password protect and encrypt only the data you want to.

The latest release has brought a number of improvements to the user experience, and integration with other areas of OS X. If you’re interested in securing particular pieces of information on your Mac, read on to learn about how Espionage can help.

The Basics – Protecting Files & Folders

Once you’ve installed Espionage, the most basic operation you will need to perform is to encrypt a particular folder. To do so, you simply drag and drop the folder over the Espionage icon. You can enter the desired password, then wait whilst the software encrypts the folder contents. This can take quite a while if it’s a large folder.

Setting up protection

Setting up protection

Espionage will display a list of all your protected folders when opened, and you can change any options at a later date. When trying to open an encrypted file, you’ll be presented with a window similar to the following:

Accessing a protected folder

Accessing a protected folder

After entering your password, you can continue working as normal. Espionage works a little magic in the background to alter aliases and deal with an encrypted disk image. The main benefit of this app is that you don’t need to worry about the technical aspect – it just works.

Application Association

Using this method is brilliant for single folders, but doesn’t work so well if you’d like to encrypt the files associated with an application. The latest version of Espionage has introduced support for “Application Association” which solves this problem. A number of applications have their data locations already imported into the app, and selecting New > Choose Application Template will bring up a list of those you have installed:

Supported applications

Supported applications

Selecting one of these will show you the path of the data to be encrypted, and allow you to assign a password as normal. This will mean that whenever you open or close that app, Espionage will automatically unlock and lock the associated files (after receiving the correct password).

If you have an app which isn’t supported by default, it’s easy to add an association – just select it’s data folder to encrypt, then select ‘Edit Application Associations’ to link that folder to an app. Espionage will check that the application isn’t running before encrypting the data to ensure no problems are caused:

Checking the application is not running

Checking the application is not running

Keychain & Encryption Standards

Obviously if you’re planning to entrust data encryption to Espionage, you’ll want to be sure that the standard it uses offers a high degree of protection. By default, Espionage uses the same AES-128 encryption used by FileVault. If you’re really paranoid, you can opt for AES-256. It’s slightly slower, but brings your folder encryption up to NSA standards!

There are also two options for where your master password to Espionage is stored. You can select either to keep it in your standard OS X Keychain, or in a different Keychain for additional security:

Selecting an alternative Keychain

Selecting an alternative Keychain

Backup & Searching

When dealing with encrypted folders, certain issues are introduced with regard to backing them up and searching their contents. By default, Spotlight isn’t able to access and index these files as it normally could. When unlocked, however, Espionage does allow searching within encrypted folders. It means that locked data remains private, but when unlocked it’s easy to find.

In addition, you can benefit from extra backup protection for your secured data:

Setting up backups

Setting up backups

Time Machine should backup your info as normal if enabled, but if you’re not a Time Machine user (or would simply like an extra layer of protection), this automatic backup solution is great.

Conclusion

After using Espionage for a while, I’m impressed. It does exactly what it claims to, and makes managing secure data remarkably easy. If you don’t want the system wide performance hit of FileVault but do have the odd application/folder to encrypt, it’s a great solution.

The new Application Association really increases the functionality, and means that you don’t need to worry about conflicts and problems which can arise from encrypting an app’s data.

The price tag of $24.95 is reasonable, and the app definitely provides functionality to match the cost. If you’re looking for a free solution, it may be worth checking out TrueCrypt, or (for a slightly lower price) BitClamp.

I’d be interested to know whether you feel the need to secure your information through one of these tools – if so, what’s the process you use for data encryption?