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Page last updated at 16:45 GMT, Friday, 9 January 2009

Click Tips: Protecting PC data II

By Rob Freeman
Click tip-ster

Rob Freeman, Click's very own Mr Fixit, looks at encryption techniques available to everyone.

I recently looked at how Vista's onboard drive encryption software Bitlocker could be one way of protecting data in your computer.

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Encryption is important because without it, anyone can read and steal information from your personal or even corporate files.

However, Bitlocker is only available on Windows Ultimate, which is the most expensive version of Vista.

To find out about encryption for all to use, I want start by pointing out that the difference between encryption and password protection.

Password protection

For instance, when you log in to your computer, a login password is a quick and simple barrier to the files on this system. But this only applies when they are on this system.

If I have stolen your computer, this password is no barrier at all because if I want to find out what data you have, I simply remove this disc and plug into a system that I do know the password to.

But if your files are also encrypted, then if I put this disc into another computer all I will see are nonsense bits and bytes.

Encryption

So, how to encrypt your files? It is important to know before you start that you are going to make changes to the contents of your disc, so back-up that data first.

But keep the back-up secure, otherwise encrypting your first drive will be a waste of time.

First download TrueCrypt.

It is free, it is open source and there are versions for Windows and Mac OS 10.4 and greater, a couple of Linux distributions and Ubuntu as well. You can get it from TrueCrypt.org

If you are a small business owner then you should consider encrypting everything which could leave your premises, because encryption is confidentiality.

Because of this, some hard disc companies like Seagate.org have begun including encryption hardware straight in to their laptop hard discs.

Mobile computers are more likely to get stolen.

Disadvantages

There are some disadvantages to encryption. Here are a couple to think about.

Having to encrypt everything as it comes on and off the hard disc is a complicated process which increases the amount of time it takes to access your files. In other words, your computer runs more slowly.

The second is forgetting your password, or losing the USB drive with the key files. This is a disaster, as the chances of you getting the data back is close to zero.

It is as if your disc crashed or that you wiped it just by forgetting the password. Drive encryption is powerful stuff to get wrong.

So back-up data, keep copies of USB keys in a safe place and leave yourself password reminders.

Million dollar phone

Crypto Smartphone
Jeweller Peter Aloisson released his diamond-encrusted mobile in 1998

And for the really rich and paranoid you can get your phone data encrypted.

Pictured on the right is the Diamond Crypto Smartphone.

It costs $1.3m (£857,000), but that is largely because it is absolutely jammed with gold and diamonds.

It is a phone for the rich and paranoid.

But if individually hand made phones are your bag, you probably have contacts worth protecting.



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