Software & Apps Backup & Utilities What Is a Private Encryption Key? When Available, a Private Encryption Key Is Almost Always a Good Idea by Tim Fisher General Manager, VP, Lifewire.com Tim Fisher has 30+ years' professional technology support experience. He writes troubleshooting content and is the General Manager of Lifewire. our editorial process Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Tim Fisher Updated on May 16, 2019 © luismmolina / E+ / Getty Images Backup & Utilities Design Cryptocurrency MS Office Windows Linux Google Drive Apps File Types Backup & Utilities View More Tweet Share Email A private encryption key is an extra-layer encryption algorithm used by some online backup services to help further secure your account. With a private encryption key, your backed up files can't be seen by anyone unless they can provide the password that decrypts the key, thus revealing the data. Is Setting a Private Encryption Key a Good Idea? In one word? Yes. Did you know that any cloud backup account without a private encryption key setup is open for the service to look at, anytime they want? It's true. In practice, they have better things to do than look through one person's dog photos, but it could happen. However, if your files are encrypted using a private encryption key, not even the online backup service is able to view and unlock your files. They, just like anyone else, including the NSA, will need to know the correct passphrase before seeing any of your files. And who knows that passphrase? Just you...and anyone you tell, of course. More Information on Using a Private Encryption Key A really important thing to know about private encryption keys, or more accurately the passphrase you set for yours, is that you can not, under any circumstances, ever forget it! Normally, if you've forgotten the password to your account, you can easily reset it to a new one, and you can probably do this as many times as you like. However, because using a private encryption key means you and only you have access to the key, and by extension to your backed up files, it also means that you will lose access to all of your data if you happen to forget the password. So, it's of utmost importance to never forget the passphrase you used when you set up the private encryption key. No one can reset it for you, ever, even the backup service themselves. Password managers are often used to store complex passwords so that you're less likely to lose access to your accounts. Also, a private encryption key can only be used if there's no data already on your account. This means if you decide you want to use a private encryption key after you've begun backing up files, you must wipe your account clean and start fresh. Which Online Backup Services Have a Private Encryption Key Option? This Online Backup Comparison Table shows which of our favorite online backup services have an option to use a private encryption key to keep your files confidential. Backblaze and Carbonite are just two examples of popular backup services that offer private encryption keys as options for at least some of their plans.