Prevent Data Theft with Full Disk Encryption

According to a 2009 Intel study, over 12,000 laptops are lost or stolen every week at U.S. airports alone. This is in addition to the tens of thousands of reports of laptops being stolen from private vehicles and residences. While the thought of losing a $1,500 laptop sounds bad enough, the main concern is data loss. Full Disk Encryption eliminates that problem.

In 2010, an FBI Computer Crime and Security survey found that the liability of a stolen company laptop averaged over $30,000 in costs related to managing and retrieving compromised data. This has totaled up to over 48 Billion dollars in costs annually across the entire U.S.

While you as a connoisseur of YouTube cat videos may not think you have valuable or sensitive data on your own laptop, unless your hard drive is encrypted, it could take just minutes to retrieve your cached email, banking or social media passwords. The results from such an incident can be identity theft and financial loss.

The mathematical scrambling of data, better known as Encryption, has been around since the 1970s in modern digital form, and before that in mechanical form, most notably as the machines that created secret military notes during the Second World War.  This same concept that helped the allies succeed on the battlefield is the same one that will help you arrive home from LAX or O’Hare victorious, even if your laptop does happen to get lost along the way.

With modern computing there are two states in which your precious data must be secured; while it is at rest, and while it is in motion.  Securing in motion is performed by using (for example) HTTPS websites that use an SSL encryption layer to securely transmit your data back and forth. All legitimate banking, email and ecommerce websites will be doing this by the way. Securing your data at rest might be done by shutting down your computer at night, removing the hard drive, and putting it in a safe. Alternatively, your hard drive can be more conveniently secured at rest by using encryption.

Hard drive encryption has become increasingly popular in the last few years with the emergence of faster hard drive technologies, and both Windows PCs and Macs now ship with secure encryption technology. All you have to do is (meet the requirements and then) turn it on!

Microsoft’s encryption technology is called Bitlocker, and is available only on the Pro editions of Windows 8, as well as the Ultimate editions of Windows 7 and its predecessor, Vista. No word yet on Windows 10. For Macs, Apple ships OS X with Filevault 2, a software-based encryption scheme that is regarded for ease of use and management. If you are a Windows 7 or Windows 8 Home edition user, fear not, you can perform a Windows Anytime Upgrade, which bumps your feeble Home edition up to a supported Pro version. Aside from the Microsoft and Apple built-in encryption technologies, there are a few reputable 3rd party options as well, such as Symantec’s Drive Encryption software.

Now that you understand the case and requirements for Hard Drive encryption, we will address the steps in the next blog on how to enable Microsoft’s Bitlocker on Windows 8.1 Pro, in turn helping you sleep better on that red eye flight.

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