How To Encrypt your Hard Drive with TrueCrypt

I’ve always had my issues with Bitlocker. I love the technology as it gave users the opportunity to finally encrypt their entire hard drive a la Microsoft however, the major problem stemmed from the fact that this feature is only available in the highest edition of Windows Vista and Windows 7! This pretty much left a huge portion of the casual Windows population out in the dark. You could make the argument about whether or not it’s necessary for these “casual” users to need a technology such as full disk encryption but that ultimately in my opinion should be left for the user to decide. If Microsoft talks so much about security and wanting to better protect user PCs, they should have included that feature in the Home Premium edition as well. But hey, why should they listen to me eh? Anyways, the good news is that you don’t have to convince Microsoft to give you that feature. Truecrypt, one of the world’s most popular open source encryption software allows just about anyone to fully encrypt their hard drive so that no one but the owner may access it. It’s completely free and best of all, the encryption strength is military grade so you know you’re not being ripped off here!

*Disclaimer and a Few Notes*

Full hard disk encryption is different than your traditional file and folder encryption. As the name implies, with the former, your entire hard disk is encrypted from the moment you turn on your PC. Rather than deciding what files and folder is important enough to consider encryption, why not just say “screw it” and encrypt to whole darn thing?! By doing so, you still have the knowledge that no one but you will be able to access your data along with the fact that even if your computer was stolen, you don’t have to worry about whether or not your important files were encrypted. However, one thing you do have to remember is that anytime you employ any type of encryption to your files, you have a potential to not only lock out strangers and data thieves from  your data but you yourself as well! Encryption is not a very forgiving technology. If it were, it wouldn’t be used by a lot of people would it? If you somehow forgotten the password to decrypt your data, there usually isn’t any “back door” that somehow allows you special access even though you are who you claim to be and not some stranger. In these cases, you have to restore from backup and this is something you must pay attention to. If you do not already have the habit of backing up your data, you have to think twice (or thrice) about deploying an encryption scheme, especially one that encrypts your entire hard disk. You can get more help on this at the end of this article were I’ll list some articles you can follow to help form a backup strategy.

To reiterate, if you’re the type of person who likes to think that something bad can’t happen to you for whatever reason, I’ll have to say that encrypting your data might not be best suited for you. You have to realize that this is not a game. There is a chance that you will lose all your data. Even if you’ve followed all the steps, computers can be very funny sometimes in that it won’t behave as expected and screw something up without any reason. But enough of this, if you think that you’re up to the task, proceed with the following instructions at your own risk. Simple as that.

TrueCrypt to the Rescue

You can download TrueCrypt from here.

Using TrueCrypt to encrypt your entire disk is surprisingly easy. I was so amazed with the amount of effort that went into this program. The developers definitely did a good job in making such a complex security tool user friendly. The only keyboard input required of you throughout the entire procedure is your master password. That’s it! The process is entirely wizard driven and every step is clearly defined and explained by the TrueCrypt team. Granted, we are talking about encryption here so there might still be terms you won’t be familiar with. However, the good news is that the default choices usually works best. This tutorial will include many pictures so you should be able to follow along without any problems.

Once you’ve gotten TrueCrypt installed, proceed to the System file dropdown menu at the top and select the “Encrypt System Partition/Drive” option.

Encrypt System Option

Next up, you’ll select the type of encryption to apply. Unless you are James Bond or have documents on your computer that is critical to your country’s national security, it’s a safe bet to select the Normal option. The Hidden feature actually allows you to create a fake or decoy operating system alongside a truly hidden one. TrueCrypt does a good job explaining the details here. To sum it up, if you are forced to decrypt your computer by a bad guy (due to extortion or a gun to your head), you can give them your password for the decoy operating system. If everything is done correctly, they will never know that a hidden operating system partition exists. To load the “real” hidden partition, you supply the actual “secret” password which is of course different than the first one. Again, this feature is overkill for casual users but it does sound pretty awesome right?!

Encryption Type

Under the Area to Encrypt window, it’s best to select the “Encrypt the whole drive” option. If you want to just encrypt the partition where Windows resides on, then select the other option. Although I haven’t tried it myself, I’m guessing that other partitions you make in the future (for your data and whatnot) will not be encrypted if you select that first choice.

Area to Encrypt

The next window is particularly important if your computer was purchased from an OEM manufacturer (Dell, HP, Sony, etc). Some of them include a hidden partition that can only be accessed during the boot-up process and includes your system recovery data along with other pieces of information you may need to restore your computer back to its default state. You generally do not want to encrypt this data and here, TrueCrypt is smart enough to give you this option. To be on the safe side, select No here.

Host Protected Area

Next, you specify whether or not you have more than one operating system installed. Because TrueCrypt will install its own boot loader, it will takeover the one currently in use. Therefore, it’s imperative that you supply the correct answer here. By choosing “Multi-Boot”, TrueCrypt will save your existing bootloader into a safe place. When one day you want to stop using TrueCrypt, you’ll have the option to restore this bootloader so that your system will continue to function as it did prior to the encryption.

Multi-Boot

Page 2: Continuing with the Process –>

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Comments

  1. Nice Thumbnail additions. looks great !

  2. A very Solid program for encryption . I use it in ubuntu . works flawlessly :)

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