Increasingly, we live our lives through our PCs. Which makes it all the more important to protect all that data. Here's how to do it using a useful tool called TrueCrypt.

This article appears as part of the April 07 issue of PC Advisor, available now in all good newsagents

Whether it's the result of bitter experience, or scare stories in the press, most of us have finally latched on to the fact that we can't afford to be too laissez-faire with our personal information. And we generally know better than to go publicising it all over the web by logging on to online accounts from a shared PC.

But what's yet to be fully hammered home is that if we store sensitive data on a local hard drive, it's equally vulnerable. Use autologins and what's to stop anyone else signing in while you're away? Leave juicy information onscreen and someone could easily make a mental note of the details as they pass by. On shared PCs, the threat of local data theft is far higher than any web-borne attack.

Thankfully, there are some effective tools with which to secure your system. TrueCrypt, which we've used in a workshop in the April 07 issue of PC Advisor, allows you to create encrypted volumes or containers. You can then store sensitive information such as bank records in them.

Each container is treated as an additional hard drive and appears in My Computer as a separate device. Interacting with an encrypted partition is pretty seamless. Files are encrypted and decrypted on the fly and can be copied, pasted, moved and deleted as they would with an ordinary drive. Crucially, anything inside the TrueCrypt container remains safely encrypted.

You can encrypt files of any type or size – TrueCrypt can accommodate many gigabytes of data, including entire applications. Choose between a wide range of encryption algorithms and all metadata, file structures and file names remain hidden. This makes data stashed in a TrueCrypt very tough to get at.