Wednesday, March 28, 2012

What is Full Hard Disk Encryption and why should I care about it?

In today’s article, I am not going to talk about passwords or backing up your data. Instead, we are going to take a deep dive on one key security issue; and that issue is encryption. Do you know what encryption is? Better yet, is any of your current data on your computer encrypted?

You could have all of your data securely backed up to ‘the cloud’, you can have a different password for every online account you have (including your bank), you could even have both a BIOS password on your computer, as well as a Windows password for your user account. But all of these passwords won’t matter if your computer’s hard drive is not encrypted.

If your computer is stolen, all the thief needs to do is remove the hard drive from the computer and use a cheap SATA-to-USB converter to connect the hard drive to their own computer. From that point, they have full access to all of the information on your hard drive. Another example is if a hospital laptop is stolen and has patient data on it, or a laptop from a government agency is missing with hundreds of citizens’ social security numbers in a document. This is why encryption is so important. If your computer’s hard drive is lost or stolen, there is literally nothing a thief can do to extract data from it unless he\she knows the password or has the full decryption key.

Fortunately, there two, free, encryption software options available which I personally recommend. Each offers full hard disk encryption; Windows Bitlocker and TrueCrypt.

Bitlocker is built into Windows Vista/7/8 Ultimate and Enterprise editions only. It is very easy to set up and use. Fortunately, Microsoft has some excellent training videos on how to set up Bitlocker on your computer. A bonus with Bitlocker is that not only can you encrypt the hard drives physically installed in your computer, you can also encrypt USB flash drives and external hard drives. Encrypting external drives feature is called BitLocker-To-Go. So if you have the correct edition of Windows, check out this link for more information: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/products/features/bitlocker.

TrueCrypt is the only other option that I recommend. It does the same thing as Bitlocker, but it is a 3rd party open source software solution that you need to install and set up on your own. Also, it does not have the ability to encrypt external drives. But, it is a free encryption option for your computer and it does work very well.

I highly encourage you to read up on encryption and decide if it is the right thing for you to set up. Even though it seems like a lot of work, in the end it will give you peace of mind knowing that your data is actually secure.

-Joe