If you’ve heard of data encryption, you may be wondering if encryption is something you want to implement on your data and computers. You may be on the fence about whether or not your data should be encrypted. Or, you may be a health or business professional who wants to store customer information securely. Whatever reason comes to your mind, Apple offers the option to encrypt data on macOS and calls it FileVault. We’re here to help you figure out if data encryption and FileVault are right for you.
What is FileVault
FileVault is Apple’s app for encrypting your data on macOS devices. It will encrypt all of your data on your startup disk (although you can also encrypt Time Machine backups as well). Once you enable it, it will quickly encrypt your data and run smoothly in the background. It also forces all uses to re-enter the password when waking up from sleep mode or screen saver and any accounts without administrator privileges to enable encryption.
What is FileVault? History
FileVault from Apple is a type of disk encryption. What this means is that it hides your information from prying eyes by basically mixing it up. If someone were to look at an encrypted text file, for example, it would look like a completely obfuscated file. The only way to decrypt it is to use a key that only you (or in this case, macOS) know.
If someone stole your laptop, they might have all of its components, but not have access to the information. This applies even if he ejects the hard drive and tries to read it using another computer. Without the encryption feature, this allows anyone to easily see what’s on your storage drive.
The original version of FileVault wasn’t very helpful. It only encrypted the main folder, in which all your personal data is likely to be, but left the rest of the system untouched. If an app stores private information elsewhere on your system, it will not be protected.
Starting with Mac OS X Lion, Apple introduced FileVault 2. This encrypts the entire SSD or hard drive instead of just the main folder. As another perk, FileVault 2 also uses generally stronger encryption than the original version, which helps keep your data safe.
Going forward, you may encounter some terms that you are not familiar with. Although we will try to make it as simple as possible, as coding is a complex subject, so there may be cases where you will encounter more technical jargon. We have a list of basic encryption terms that should help you in this case.
Should you use FileVault?
If you are wondering if you should use FileVault, the default answer is Yes , You must. There are no occasions where using FileVault is a bad idea. However, FileVault encryption is more useful in some cases than others.
If you have an old Mac mini in your house that you use to store your iTunes music catalog to play on Airplay, FileVault isn’t absolutely necessary. On the other hand, on the MacBook you carry with you to work, disk encryption with FileVault is necessary. If you frequently travel with your Mac laptop, take a look at our list of tips for keeping your Mac safe on the road.
You should know that FileVault encryption does not come without a cost. On any device, encryption will have some kind of performance penalty.
In most cases, encryption only causes marginal poor performance, but if your computer is already slow, it can slow it down even more. If you are using a RAID setup or using Boot Camp, you may not be able to use FileVault at all.
Once FileVault has encrypted the disk, you must log into your computer with your account password to unlock your files. As a result, you cannot use automatic login on a Mac when FileVault is enabled.
FileVault encryption may already be enabled on your computer, especially if you recently purchased your Mac. In the next section, we’ll look at how to check this.
Is FileVault already enabled on your Mac?
Checking that FileVault is enabled on your Mac is simple. Open System Preferences , then go to Security and privacy settings. Here, select the tab FileVault at the top of the screen.
You’ll see a brief overview of what FileVault does, as well as a grayed out button to turn it on or off. At the bottom of this screen, you may see a message saying that FileVault running on disk “Macintosh HD” or something similar. If you see this message, then FileVault is already enabled on your computer.
If a shutdown message is displayed instead, you will need to enable it manually.
How to enable FileVault on your Mac
Enabling FileVault is simple. If you are not already there, go toSystem Preferences, then clickSecurity and privacy. Here, click on the FileVault tab.
On this page, you will notice that the button labeled Turn On FileVault disabled. All you have to do is tap the lock icon at the bottom of the screen, then enter the administrator password. Now click the button to enable FileVault encryption.
If you have multiple users on your computer, you will need to enter the password for each user. Now you need to choose how to unlock the disk and reset your password if you forgot it. You have two options: use iCloud to unlock the disk, or create a FileVault recovery key.
Using iCloud is easier, but a little less secure. If someone can hack your iCloud account, they can decrypt your computer drive. It’s usually safer to use a FileVault recovery key, but if you’ve lost that key and forgotten your password, there’s no way to get your data back.
If you choose to use a FileVault recovery key, keep it safe. This means that you have to store it in a different place than Your Mac’s Encrypted Drive Now , such as a password manager or a safe locker. No matter which method you choose, the encryption will take some time, but it happens in the background so you can continue to use your computer.
How to disable FileVault
Disabling FileVault disk encryption, if you wanted to, is easy. The process starts the same way as enabling FileVault. Open System Preferences , then go to Security and privacy and click tab FileVault. Click the lock at the bottom of the screen and enter your password.
Now, click on the button labeled Turn Off FileVault. The decoding process will start. As with encryption, this happens in the background, so feel free to continue using your computer.
FileVault is just the beginning of encryption
Using strong passwords and encrypting your Mac with FileVault will go a long way toward keeping your information secure. However, you can do much more than that. Each additional method you add is another lock on the door between your data and the person looking to get it in their hands.
This might mean switching to a more secure email provider or using two-factor authentication, but it often doesn’t mean more encryption. If enabling FileVault on your Mac makes you wonder where you might be able to use encryption, you have several options. For a place to start, take a look at our guide to using cryptography in your everyday life.