7ZIP is an open source compression and archiving tool available for windows. It is free software which can be used at home or work and you don’t need to register or pay for it.
Available to download from 7-zip.org the application is very easy to install in Windows and includes a ‘File Manager’ GUI as well as handy Windows Explorer shell extensions.
7ZIP can be compared to software such as ‘WinRAR’ and ‘WinZip’, each of which are compression tools used to reduce the overall amount of disk space it takes to save a file (or multiple files). Whilst each of these tools achieves a similar end goal, one of the most obvious reasons 7ZIP is such a popular tool is that it is open source and ‘free’ (both WinRAR and WinZip can cost to use them). 7Zip also claims to return compression rates that are 2 to 10% better than the ratio provided by WinZip.
Once 7ZIP is installed, creating archives is a fairly straight forward process. As the screen grab here shows, it can be as simple as selecting the file, files or folders you wish to archive, right clicking them and choosing the most suitable option from the menu. Selecting ‘Add to archive…’ is the most flexible choice which will present the ‘Add to archive’ dialogue from which you can alter a range of settings if you require. In reality, the system defaults will usually render the best results.
One of the most useful features of 7Zip is it’s built in ability to encrypt archive Zip and 7Z archives with strong AES-256 encryption. This provides an easy method secure and password protect your files. This feature comes especially handy if you need to move data around on a USB stick or portable hard drive. There is even a portable version of 7ZIP you can run direct from your USB drive (not installation required). Encryption is also useful (if not essential) for sending sensitive files to others by email. Simply add encryption using 7Zip, choose a strong password and share it with the recipient via a different communication channel. This way, if your email is intercepted, lost or accidentally sent to the wrong person, your data remains relatively safe.
An important note on this type of encryption:
Encryption of this type is generally considered very secure, but as 7Zip’s implementation uses ‘password derived keys’, this makes archives more likely to fall victim to brute force attacks (where passwords are guessed at high speed). To best protect against this, always use a strong unique password when encrypting your data. There are many tools available to help you choose a strong secure password.