Should I Encrypt My External Hard Drive?
I'm a legal consultant who travels with an external hard drive, and it stores a lot of sensitive data. I'm very careful about physical security, but still I'm thinking about using encryption to secure my data, just in case. What do you recommend?
External Hard Drive Encryption
If you store sensitive data on an external hard drive, you should consider encrypting the drive to prevent unauthorized access. External drives, particularly those that are moved from place to place, are more vulnerable to loss or theft than internal drives. There are many strategies and products for encrypting external hard drives.
Encryption software is the simplest way to encrypt an external drive. Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate editions come with BitLocker encryption built in. BitLocker encrypts and decrypts data on the fly. A BitLocker-protected external drive is automatically recognized by Windows 7 and either opens automatically or prompts the user for a password, depending on how BitLocker is configured.
Microsoft also offers BitLocker to Go Reader, a utility for Vista and XP systems that provides read-only access to drives encrypted with BitLocker. BitLocker to Go Reader lets Windows 7 systems share data with Vista and XP users but does not allow Vista and XP users to write data to BitLocker-protected drives.
Truecrypt is a popular free encryption program that works a bit differently from BitLocker. TrueCrypt creates an encrypted file on the target drive, which can be an external drive, flash drive, or network drive. Data written to the encrypted file is protected. The encrypted file can then be mounted as an extra drive letter and accessed just like a normal drive. The TrueCrypt software must be installed on an external drive. Truecrypt works with Windows, Mac, and Linux systems.
SafeHouse Explorer is another free encryption program that runs on Windows 7, Vista, and XP. Unlike Truecrypt, SafeHouse Explorer does not need to be installed. It can be run as a standalone executable file from a USB flash drive, an external hard drive, a CD/DVD, or even over the Internet.
Software or Hardware Encryption?
When working with an encrypted hard drive, you probably won't notice much difference in performance, unless you routinely deal with very large files or SQL databases. But software-based encryption will definitely rev up your CPU, so be prepared to take a hit on battery life if you're using a laptop.
Hardware encryption is faster and more secure than software encryption. The encryption algorithms are burned into circuitry embedded in a chip inside of the drive, safe from manipulation by hackers. The encryption chip handles all processing, freeing the computer's resources.
Some hardware encryption drives include a physical key device that must be inserted into the drive to unlock its contents. Others have fingerprint scanners built into the drive's case. Still others have a keypad on which a PIN of up to 18 digits must be entered in order to unlock a drive.
For most consumers, a free software encryption program provides adequate protection. Business users who must protect many external drives, comply with data security regulations, and share external drives among numerous employees may be better served by hardware encryption drives.
Do you use hard drive encryption? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 23 Jun 2011
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Should I Encrypt My External Hard Drive? (Posted: 23 Jun 2011)
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