What is it they say about the shoemaker’s daughter – oh yes; she has no shoes!
What is it they say about the computer tech who consistently warns computer users to take particular care of USB drives to ensure they won’t be lost, or stolen? Well today they might say – he should be more careful and follow his own advice!
I have made a habit, these last several years, of carrying one or more USB drives with me no matter the activity I’m engaged in. So it wasn’t unusual that while skiing this past weekend, I had two flash drives with me. What was unusual though was – I lost both sticks on the slopes. Yes, skiing occasionally involves falling head over heels.
Other than the minor cost involved in replacement, and the drudgery of reinstalling my trusty ‘tech toolbox” no real harm occurred since both drives were encrypted. Nevertheless, the lesson learned here was – none of us are infallible.
Sure, I know, you’ll never lose your USB flash drive, and you take particular care to ensure it won’t be stolen. But does loss, or theft, of a USB stick happen? You bet. My recent experience is a perfect example. Just this past week, it was reported that in the U.K., 9,000 USB drives were found by dry cleaners in 2008.
The following are selected statistics, but they make the point that USB sticks, or other portable media devices, frequently get lost, or stolen.
– Privacyrights.org recently reported that in the last two years, personal information on over 244 million Americans has being stolen, or exposed in other ways.
– Recently in the U.K., an unencrypted Ministry of Defense USB drive was found on the floor of a nightclub. That’s not much of a story I suppose, but added to the other fifty eight Ministry of Defense unencrypted drives that were reported lost in 2008 which contained details of troop movements, locations, and travel accommodation, and it takes on a different perspective.
– In the U.S., The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) recently admitted the loss of an unencrypted external hard drive containing the personal, bank and payroll information of up to 100,000 of its former and current employees who worked for the agency from January 2002 until August 2005.
– Several months ago, unencrypted data on all 84,000 prisoners in England and Wales went missing after a contractor lost a USB stick on which it had been stored.
– According to Security Software Zone
“Government data loss and data leakages related to lost or stolen computer memory sticks, are now commonplace.”
In too many of these cases, negligently, the data is unencrypted. Certainly Laptop/ USB flash drive theft or loss is not restricted to organizations; we know that it can just as easily happen to you or me.
To reduce or eliminate the security threat to your sensitive data, the most prudent course for you to follow is to encrypt your data. If you’re unfamiliar with data encryption; simply put, it is a process by which bits of data are mathematically jumbled with a password-key. The process makes the data unreadable unless, or until, decrypted by you.
Microsoft revealed recently that Windows 7, its next operating system, will include a feature that will let users encrypt USB drives.
In the meantime, here are a number of free encryption applications that will encrypt your data and are suitable for a USB flash drive.
EncryptOnClick is a free program that lets you securely encrypt and decrypt files. The program is very simple to use, and features military grade 256-bit AES encryption.
After you have launched the application, simply select the target file/folder you want to encrypt.
Following the easy interface, type a password for that file/folder which will then be encrypted. To open the encrypted file/folder at a later date, you must type the correct password.
A very secure encryption and decryption method is used (256-bit AES encryption)
Files are both compressed & encrypted, which results in a smaller file
Will encrypt single files or all files in a folder
Very simple to use interface
Can be used on a USB key
Fully Unicode enabled so filenames in any language can be encrypted
Will encrypt, decrypt, compress, and uncompress files which can also be opened and decrypted using third party programs like WinZip 9 – provided the correct password is used
Will detect if you’re decrypting a file that is in a temporary folder, and if so, will prompt you to see if you would like to decrypt it into a different folder
Command line parameters can be used
Complete help file
Free technical support, online forums, knowledge base, and FAQs at 2BrightSparks
Tip: Use on a USB key by copying the files EncryptOnClick.exe, EncryptOnClick.exe manifest, ExceedZip.dll to a named folder on the USB key.
System Requirements: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
Download at: Download.com
TrueCrypt is an outstanding free open source software system, (one I have using for the last several years) for establishing and maintaining an on-the-fly-encrypted volume.
On-the-fly encryption simply means that data are automatically encrypted or decrypted just before they are loaded or saved, without any user intervention. No data stored on an encrypted volume can be read (decrypted) without using the correct password/correct encryption keys.
TrueCrypt uses 11 algorithms for encrypting private files in a password-protected volume. You can store your encrypted data in files, partitions, or a portable storage device such as a USB flash drive.
Once your encrypted files are mounted to a local drive with your password or key, you can manipulate those files, i.e. you can open, copy, delete, or modify them. When you have completed working on those files, you then dismount the volume and the files are then safely secured from unauthorized access.
Creates a virtual encrypted disk within a file and mounts it as a real disk
Encrypts an entire hard disk partition or a storage device such as USB flash drive
Encryption is automatic, real-time (on-the-fly) and transparent
Provides two levels of plausible deniability, in case an adversary forces you to reveal the password – Hidden volume – No TrueCrypt volume can be identified – volumes cannot be distinguished from random data
Encryption algorithms: AES-256, Serpent, and Twofish. Mode of operation: XTS
Ability to encrypt a system partition/drive (i.e. a partition/drive where Windows is installed) with pre-boot authentication (anyone who wants to gain access and use the system, read and write files, etc., needs to enter the correct password each time before the system starts
System Requirements: Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista
Download at: Download.com
For those of you who are more interested in protecting files, or folders, on your home computer the two applications above will do the job nicely. Choice is good of course, so here is an additional free program that you might be interested in.
My Lockbox is a freeware software application that allows you to do just that, and then password protect those files on your computer.
Other users will not have access to these files, nor will they be able to accidentally, or otherwise, view them or manipulate them in any way.
The protected folder (lockbox) is hidden from all other users and applications on your computer; including the Administrator and the System. The lockbox (protected folder), is impossible to access not only from the local computer, but also from the Internet.
Following the on-screen instructions makes this program extremely easy to setup and use. The lockbox location, password, and parameters are configured during the easy setup procedure.
After the setup is completed, the lockbox will be hidden and locked until you, as the user, enter the valid password. My Lockbox Control Panel allows you easily change basic lockbox parameters: lockbox location, protection status, and password.
The program is effective, easy to use and best of all – it’s free.
Very easy to use
Almost any folder on your computer can be password protected
Instant protection – no file scrambling
Lockbox folder is inaccessible even by the system administrators
Lockbox folder is inaccessible both locally and remotely
Lockbox folder can be protected in Windows safe mode
Hotkeys support – you can popup the Control Panel with a keystroke
Skinned user interface
System Requirements: Windows 2000, XP, 2003 Server, Vista
Download at: Download.com