Techy Tuesdays – Encrypting Your Hard Drive

Hard drive
What secrets lurk here?

 

Encrypting Your Data

Long gone are the days where you could throw away valuable information without fear of it coming back to bite you in the ass. Identity theft has been a problem for a long time, but it’s getting worse and worse every day. You can’t simply toss your computer out into the trash (not that you should ever have done that anyway) and not expect to have anything of value stolen off of it. You can toss your hard drive in a dryer, dump water on it, or even run a magnet over it a couple of times (this doesn’t really work unless you have a really strong magnet), but the data on it will still exist. Most of today’s hard drives are still the standard platter-based hard drives. This means that inside of your hard drive are small disks stacked on top of one another that contain your deep dark secrets, er, data from the years and years you’ve had your computer. Even stuff that you’ve “deleted” off of the hard drive can be retrieved if someone wanted it bad enough.

That’s where encryption comes in.

 

Trash Pile
Not Pictured: a home for your old computer

 

What is encryption?

To put it simply, encryption is the process by which your data is converted from a readily accessible/readable state to a state where that same data is encoded and can only be decoded by those in possession of the key. No key? No read.

Encryption isn’t a new idea. Even before computers were a thing, people encoded messages in ciphers, codes, etc. We’re simply taking the same concept and applying it to your hard drive.

You may now be asking, “Well codes weren’t all that difficult to break in the past. Ciphers were regularly broken and people were hired specifically to do so throughout human history, so what’s stopping them from doing that on my hard drive?” Well my smart cookie, here is why. Most modern encryption software will utilize a 256 bit encryption key for for the data. That would mean that the hacker would have to “guess” the right 256 digit key to use. This mean that they would have a total 115792089237316195423570985008687907853269984665640564039457584007913129639936┬ápossible guesses to make. Even the most insane of super computers would take years and untold trillions of dollars in electricity alone to hack that key. Your average garbage diver/thief isn’t going to have nearly those resources.

 

Dream Computer
A dream is about the only place you can expect to crack modern encryption

 

So what should I use to encrypt my hard drive?

Glad you asked! There are a lot of options available. Fortunately, if you’re a Windows user and have fairly up to date computer, you will have the option built right into your machine! Microsoft introduced Bitlocker into their operating system around 2004 with the release of “Ultimate” and “Enterprise” editions of Windows Vista. It’s now much more accessible by allowing you access on Pro and up versions of Windows 8 and 10. This may mean you need to upgrade your operating system to the pro version which will likely cost you about $100. Pricey, but there are free alternatives available. Here is one such example.

I will be showing the process to encrypt your hard drive with Bitlocker on a Windows 10 Pro PC. If you have Windows 8, the process may be slightly different, but overall the same.

 

Bitlocker Encryption Guide

First, open up explorer so you can see your disks. You can do this by clicking the start button and typing “This PC”

Right-click the disk that you want to encrypt and select “Turn on Bitlocker”

If you’re lucky, your computer will have a TPM chip and you will be able to proceed without the next step. If not, you may get this message –

If you get the “This device can’t use a Trusted Platform Module” message, do the following.

Click the start button and type gpedit.msc.

Go to the following location – Computer Configuration -> Administrative Templates -> Windows Components -> BitLocker Drive Encryption -> Operationg System Drives

Click “Require additional authentication on startup” and click “Edit policy setting” link. Enable and apply this setting.

You should now be able to finish your Bitlocker setup.

You will be asked if you want to use a USB flash drive or a password. If you use a USB flash drive, you will have to make sure you keep this flash drive safe as you will need it plugged into your computer any time you want to power it back on.

 

I’ve elected to enter a password. Enter the password in twice and click next.

You’ll be asked to back up your recovery key. You will need this key in the event you ever forget your password. If you forget your password and don’t have your key, you no longer have a computer you can boot into. You have to choose at least one, but can choose to use all options if you so desire. Once done, click next.

 

You’ll then be asked how much of the drive you want to encrypt. I highly recommend selecting the “Encrypt entire drive” option.

Select “New encryption mode” for hard drives installed in your computer, and select “Compatible mode” if you’re encrypting a flash drive or external hard drive.

Check the “Run BitLocker system check” option and click continue. Your computer will restart to ensure you have no problems with the encryption process and then begin encrypting your hard drive.

 

Congratulations!

You’ve successfully encrypted your hard drive. From here you should get a notification that the encryption is in progress and running. Your disk and data are now safe from prying eyes. The only thing that allows access to your data now is either the password you created or the recovery key you saved. Until next time internet fam!

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