I just recently bought a new netbook. Now, I know that netbooks are supposedly on the way out, but I love the low price, long battery life, and massive portability. But there’s a problem with netbooks and security. They’re massively portable – whether the person doing the porting is me or a thief. I do my best to keep my netbook safe, but being realistic I’ll admit that it could happen.
Now, the biggest loss from someone stealing my netbook is in data; the hardware really isn’t all that expensive. My netbook doesn’t just contain personal information; it’s also full of important business data. I can and do perform regular backups to make sure I don’t lose any of the data, but I don’t want anyone else reading what I’ve got, either.
That’s where file encryption comes in. If properly encrypted, my data won’t be accessible even if someone has the hard drive. So, with that in mind, I’m looking at three different utilities for encrypting my drive:
TrueCrypt – TrueCrypt is kind of the grand-daddy of Whole Disk Encryption; it’s currently on release 7. Being free for download, it’s rather popular. It offers a range of features, including the ability to perform whole disk encryption, and the ability to create hidden volumes and hidden operating systems, meaning that even if you’re compelled to divulge passwords, your attacker won’t know about these volumes and thus won’t know to get access to them. In addition, TrueCrypt comes with a pretty impressive set of encryption algorithms, including AES-256.
AxCrypt – Another piece of freeware, AxCrypt doesn’t offer quite as much as TrueCrypt. Unlike TrueCrypt, AxCrypt exists for encrypting files and doesn’t have a whole disk option. Also, it’s limited to AES-128 which is not bad but certainly not as secure as 256. It seems to have a bit more open UI, however, letting users execute scripts on it. It’s also more oriented toward online shares and network storage – so if you want to put encrypted files on online repositories, AxCrypt may be the one for you.
PGP – The third tool I’ve been looking at is Symantec’s PGP. Unlike the other two, PGP costs – roughly 90USD per license. What do you get for $90? Well, it looks like it’s not a bad piece of software. As with TrueCrypt, Whole Disk Encryption is an option. It also has centralized management options, so it seems the best of the three for large-scale implementations. In addition, it has a host of certifications, notably FIPS 140-2 compliance. If you’re in an environment where that’s required, this is likely the way to go. While the online information is not immediately forthcoming on encryption algorithms, FIPS-140-2 compliance means that at minimum it offers AES-128.
For my purposes, I’m likely going to use TrueCrypt. AxCrypt and PGP both have their place. But the most important thing? Implement something. It’s easy to put off such a step, but you never know when your mobile device might be lost or stolen.