Scrambled Bits – Part Three: TrueCrypt

by Scott Roche on January 3, 2011 · 0 comments

in Featured, Linux, Mac OS X, Windows

In parts one and two of this series I talked to you about the encryption software native to the newer versions of Windows. Contrary to what some would like to believe there are a lot of older versions of Windows still running around out there. There are also a number of operating systems other than those put out by Microsoft that people are fond of. And that’s not counting people that aren’t fond of Vista or Windows 7. So what if you find yourself in this group?
One of the most popular file encryption software packages out there is absolutely free. TrueCrypt, an open-source product of the TrueCrypt Foundation, can do everything BitLocker and BitLocker To Go can do. It also runs on both the Mac and Linux operating systems. The only major drawback to it is, if you forget the password, the data will not be recoverable. Provided you make good use of the tutorial though, TrueCrypt is safe to use and will keep your data as secure as BitLocker.

The main screen is very simple. From here you can create a volume. What’s a volume you might well ask? In computer terms it’s a single accessible storage area. In the case of TrueCrypt this can be anything from a file folder you create, to an entire system drive. For most users it’s likely enough to just create a single file and encrypt that. The wizards and documentation for TrueCrypt make it fairly easy for even beginners to use the software and ensure (as much as it’s possible) to protect their data in just a few minutes.

There are more advanced uses for this software however. You can create hidden volumes, even hiding an entire operating system and creating a dummy operating system as a front. It also has a portable mode, similar to Bitlocker To Go, that allows you to use a file encrypted with TrueCrypt on a computer that doesn’t have the software installed. Encrypted files can also be shared across networks. All of these features make TrueCrypt more than a match for the Microsoft products.

There are a few caveats with this software though. While the documentation is good and the available forums offer you a fair amount of support, this is free software and you have to do your own troubleshooting. TrueCrypt may not be as easy to use for true novices. I would strongly recommend installing this and familiarizing yourself with it using data that you are willing to lose before committing your important documents to it. Finally, as with the Bitlocker program, once you encrypt something, decrypting it is, by design, not easy. If you lose or forget the password consider your data gone.

Encrypting your devices may seem like something straight out of a spy novel. With more and more people filing taxes, banking, and shopping through their computers though, it’s an important step in making sure that only the right people have access to your personal data. The software mentioned here are only a few of the widely available options and are certainly not a guarantee. Still, much like locking your house or car when you leave, any step that can deter a thief or make their job harder is a step worth taking.

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