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What You Said: How Do You Encrypt Your Data?

2011-06-10_113149

Earlier this week we asked you to share your favorite tools and tricks for encrypting your data. Now we’re back to highlight the most popular tools and how you use them.

Encryption is a simple way to secure your data in the event that a third party gains access to your machine or your remote storage account. Readers shared a variety of their favorite tools and techniques for security everything from snippets of text to entire hard drives.

TrueCrypt Rules the Roost

TrueCrypt was undeniably the most popular tool used by readers to secure their data. It received more mentions than all the other tools combined.

Clb92 writes:

[I use an] external hard drive with hidden encrypted TrueCrypt container and portable TrueCrypt installed on it, along with a set of custom batch-files to mount the container with the TrueCrypt portable version. That way I am able to mount the container on any computer as long as it’s Windows 98 (I think), XP, Vista or 7. (The batch-files does not mount it automatically, of course. They just open the TrueCrypt password prompt, and afterwards mount it as a specific drive letter.)

Atle combines the best of encryption and remote file syncing:

TrueCrypt + Dropbox = secure and automatically backed up

Michael goes all out, encrypting his entire disk:

I have maybe six files that warrant privacy measures; however, because no one has the right to invade the privacy (in my eyes) TrueCrypt guards my entire system, as well as my DropBox through a TC container.

Reader F11 takes it one step further by encrypting his entire disk then storing the extra sensitive data on a TrueCrypt volume inside of the master drive:

I have TrueCrypt system encryption running on my laptop (this opens from a password) as well as a volume within the system to store important data (this is unlocked using a keyfile I carry on a memory stick). for storing files in places I need to be able to access without TrueCrypt I use either Toucan portable (also on that memory stick) or 7-Zip although writing files into a 7-Zip archive is really annoying.

TrueCrypt Alternatives

Although the majority of readers use TrueCrypt in some capacity, there were several qualified outliers that functioned as TrueCrypt alternatives or stood in for TrueCrypt when certain limitations arose (like portability).

Several readers used AxCrypt because of it’s flashdrive friendly design. Erwin writes:

Axcript and I put the files on a flash drive.

Chet uses TrueCrypt on his main machine but rolls out the AxCrypt for portable encryption:

I use TrueCrypt. Its free and very effective. I also use Axcrypt and Tucan for flash drive encryption.

Bitlocker, the encryption tool included with Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows Vista and 7, made a frequent appearance as a tool for securing external media. TheGift73 writes:

Full system encryption using TrueCrypt (have this on all my computers) and use BitLocker on the externals.

Schmidty echoes the Bitlocker for external drives trend:

I use BitLocker on my USB Drives and Laptop HDDs.

What we found most interesting among all of the alternatives was the relatively scarce mentions of PGP, an application that used to be an absolute titan in the encryption world. Doug writes:

PGP Desktop Professional whole disk encryption (plus digitally signed and optionally encrypted email). PGP is available both as a supported product from Symantec, and for free for every OS, unlike TrueCrypt.

Interestingly what Doug notes as a selling point for PGP (ownership and support provided by Symantec) seems to be when PGP began losing popularity. It’s also worth noting that TrueCrypt is open-source (as PGP once was) and thus people are more


You can hit up the original thread for additional tips and tricks or sound off in the comments here to share your methods if you missed the original Ask the Readers post. Have a good idea for a future Ask the Readers column? Send us an email at tips@howtogeek.com and we’ll do our best to give it the attention it deserves.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/10/11

Comments (15)

  1. JD Henson

    Please produce a tutorial on how to implement the encryption solution that Clb92 outloines in this post.

    “[I use an] external hard drive with hidden encrypted TrueCrypt container and portable TrueCrypt installed on it, along with a set of custom batch-files to mount the container with the TrueCrypt portable version. That way I am able to mount the container on any computer as long as it’s Windows 98 (I think), XP, Vista or 7. (The batch-files does not mount it automatically, of course. They just open the TrueCrypt password prompt, and afterwards mount it as a specific drive letter.)”

    I use TrueCrypt on an external WD drive, but haven’t figured out how to make it portable and simple. Thanks.

    JD

  2. fengshaun

    Hi, I’m not into encrypting stuff (after all, I have few files that need encryption), but now that it seems to be easy and widespread, I would also like a tutorial on using TrueCrypt effectively.

    Thanks,
    fengshaun

  3. ben lee

    i started using truecrypt because of this post !

  4. Dan

    I failed to mention in the last blog post my previous laptop’s encryption setup:

    A hard drive fully encrypted with TrueCrypt. It’s not a system encryption, the drive is encrypted as a regular partition volume. With no OS installed it is immune to “stoned bootkit” attacks.

    Linux Mint in an SD card with Truecrypt installed. The /home folder is encrypted, of course.

    To use my laptop HDD I need to boot with the SDC, and mount it with TC, including keyfiles which are also in my Mint’s /home folder (using obfuscated file names).

    That is too much work, so now I just use regular TC system encryption in my Win7 netbook. :-p

  5. bob99

    how much of a performance impact does encryption have on windows 7 anyway? , and would access to the encrypted folders/files be possible if windows was reinstalled for any reason? im thinking permissions etc?

  6. Dan

    @bob99

    Personally, the performance impact of having a TC encrypted system drive is tolerable IMO. But if you prefer real benchmarks, Tom’s Hardware just did some tests:

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/truecrypt-aes-ni-encryption,2899.html

    I don’t know about permissions per se. TC works below the file system level so I can’t say.

  7. Zbig

    Truecrypt (of course). I store two different keyfiles on separate USB thumbdrives which must be inserted into the computer in order to mount the encrypted folder.

  8. John

    I find ‘SafeHouse’ the best free solution to password any folder and very simple.

  9. Ugo

    I would like a tutorial on this as well:

    “[I use an] external hard drive with hidden encrypted TrueCrypt container and portable TrueCrypt installed on it, along with a set of custom batch-files to mount the container with the TrueCrypt portable version. That way I am able to mount the container on any computer as long as it’s Windows 98 (I think), XP, Vista or 7. (The batch-files does not mount it automatically, of course. They just open the TrueCrypt password prompt, and afterwards mount it as a specific drive letter.)”

  10. Canuck50

    I only use TrueCrypt for my needs. I have encrypted a 1tb drive with the “hidden” volume option. However I also use WinZip 15 in order to encrypt a document that I wish to send privately

  11. jackmc

    @ bob99 at our local ISSA meeting we timed bitlocker and the encrypted ran equally fast. Unbelievable!

  12. Jon

    How secure is Dropbox? Does it upload and download over a secure connection? What about unencrypted sensitive files being stored on their site being vulnerable to Dropbox employees? Am I correct in guessing that Truecrypt serves to secure access to the Dropbox folder on the user’s computer? I really like that Truecrypt is multi-platform, i.e. both WIN and Linux for me. At this point I just keep a volume on a USB and/or attached to a web-mail to myself for multi-computer access. I have only a few sensitive files that I need to protect.

  13. Canuck50

    Dropbox is not secure at all for sensitive. Yes employees can access your account and so can anyone else and not just your “public” folder either. I have deleted my account due to it’s security risks in the past weeks. You can read about them at PCWorld & CNET. If you wish to have a secure place for sensitive material I urge you to use TrueCrypt. Truecrypt is very easy to learn how to set up especially if you use the wizard that comes with it. It is a Linux program which is what I like about it.

  14. dlgn

    Thus people are more what?

  15. Joe

    I used testing Mingo Digital Vault & forgot my password. Even with the clue, I can’t get it. Lucky I haven’t got important files in there, I think??.

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