Full disk encryption and why its a good idea

Having a computer stolen sucks to put it simply. Other than the annoyance of someone breaking in, you also have the worry of data being stolen and potentially being looked at by the thief. This is where full disk encryption comes in to play.

Full disk encryption is a means by where the data on your disk gets scrambled and can only be deciphered by using the correct password, hopefully a strong password at that.

More of our digital lives are stored on computers these days. Data we store includes music, video, photos, paperwork as well as all our emails amongst other things. Although a lot of data is moving to the cloud, we still keep a lot of personal information on our laptops, desktops and smartphones which is why full encryption is recommended.

Should your computer be stolen and you have full disk encryption enabled, it makes it extremely difficult for the thief to access your data. Yes, they might get a full computer out of it but they wont have access to your personal photos, emails and anything else you store online.

How do you encrypt your hard drive?

Encrypting your drive differs between operating systems. Mac OS X Lion and Mountain Lion has encryption built in by way of software called File Vault. To activate File Vault you need to load up the preferences, select security and simply activate it with a password. Encryption takes a number of hours to complete as all data stored on your drive needs to be run through the algorithm to encrypt it. Just as a guide, mine took almost all day and in to the early hours of the morning to complete based on about 450GB of data stored on a 1TB drive. I was using the computer for a number of hours during the process.

For Windows, it also depends on which version of the operating system you have installed. If you run Vista, Windows 7 or the upcoming Windows 8 then depending on which version of those you have, you might get access to BitLocker which allows full drive encryption (although to a point as it is actually logical drive encryption).

How to enable drive encryption on Windows or Mac hardware is beyond the scope of this article, but don’t worry as full instructions for Windows can be found online, while full instructions for the Mac can be found over here.

Should you encrypt your drive?

My personal preference says that you should if you use modern hardware and modern operating systems. Drive encryption in that past used to slow down computers due to having to decipher every bit of information stored. On running full drive encryption on my computer recently, a late 2010 iMac lower end spec with a 16GB upgrade of RAM I was surprised at how well the machine performed. The only slow down was through the initial encryption phase as well as it taking a bit longer to boot. Other than that, I can’t complain now that the drive is secure and all information backed up and kept safe.