At a Glance
- Volume and disk level encryption, many algorithms, speedy
- Occasionally over-technical
This free, open-source encryption program lets you place files and folders in “safes” of any size.
Powerful open source program TrueCrypt 7.1 (free/donationware) creates encrypted volumes
on your computer, or encrypts entire disks–including your system
disk. It allows you to create hidden volumes, or even an entire
hidden operating system.
Proper computing practices usually keep people from attacking
your system remotely, but there’s still a high risk if they gain
physical access to your PC or your drives. Encryption programs such
as TrueCrypt render the actual stored data unreadable without the
proper key, making it difficult to even determine which parts of
the encrypted disk hold data and which hold random gibberish. This
imposes very few limits on ordinary system use, as modern
encryption software is extremely fast and performs on-the-fly
encryption and decryption with a very minimal speed hit.
TrueCrypt can be used by anyone, but it sometimes delves into
technical terms. However, the extensive documentation should be
understandable to anyone who is in a position to use or need this
kind of software.
There are two modes of using TrueCrypt. The first, the easiest
for most users, is to create an encrypted volume as a file on an
existing disk. This requires a good chunk of free space, though
that depends on how much you want secured–if it’s just a few Excel
files or the like, you can make a very small volume; if it’s
extensive archives, you will need much more space. Once the file is
created, it can be mounted like any other Windows disk, and files
can be read from it and written to it. All programs treat it like a
normal drive: The TrueCrypt drivers intercept all read and write
requests, processing the data transparently. Without the password
(and/or a key file), no one else can mount that volume, and anyone
who copies the encrypted volume will just have random bytes. (Usage
tip: This doesn’t apply if they access your system while the volume
is mounted and the decryption is running; they will then see the
files just as you do. So keep your firewall secure and if you’re in
a shared environment, set TrueCrypt to dismount shared volumes
The second mode is full-volume encryption. This can be a
non-system partition, or you encrypt your system drive. Doing the
latter provides the maximum in security, since it means that all of
the things Windows stores without your knowledge, such as system
restore points, temp files, and other clutter, will also be
encrypted. It also means that if you ever forget your password, you
cannot boot your computer. TrueCrypt will insist you make a
recovery CD in the event that the boot level drivers on the
encrypted disk become corrupt, but useing the CD still requires you
to know the password, and there’s no way to recover or reset the
password if you’ve forgotten it.
Encrypting a disk can be time-consuming; it took about 20 hours
to encrypt my 1TB USB drive. This process can be safely paused, but
the disk cannot be mounted while it’s being encrypted. If you
encrypt your system disk, TrueCrypt will do it without locking up
your computer, but these actions are best saved for a time when you
don’t plan to use your computer for a while.
TrueCrypt has the ability to create hidden volumes, which are
useful if you fear you will be forced to reveal a key. Basically,
Key 1 unlocks a volume and reveals files and data. Key 2, applied
to the same volume, reveals different files. Because the free space
on an encrypted volume is random data, it’s very difficult to prove
that a volume contains hidden data.
I strongly recommend TrueCrypt as a disk encryption solution.
It’s probably enough for most users to set aside a few dozen
gigabytes for an encrypted volume to store your most sensitive
information, but if your need for security is greater, TrueCrypt
will meet it.
Note: This program is donationware. It is free
to try, but the author accepts and encourages donations towards