David Papp Blog

Encrypting Files, Volumes, and your Entire Computer: TrueCrypt

The need for protection of our files and personal computers (PC) against unwanted intruders is increasing at an alarming rate every day. Luckily there are free open source software programs such as TrueCrypt that allows for file encryption, and even for entire disks and volumes of information on your computer system. With this innovative software, huge chunks of documents, applications, and programs can easily be hidden from view. Users can even encrypt their entire operating system.

*** TrueCrypt discontinued in 2014. Here are some free alternatives.

Even though there are many various methods to protect your system from unwanted remote attacks, the risk still remains of potential threats from people who physically access yours system. TrueCrypt makes data unreadable unless the user of the PC has the proper key. Uninvited guests will find it difficult to determine whether a file contains pertinent data or is complete gibberish. This software is easy to install and manipulate, allowing PC owners to instantly perform encryption and decryption strategies.

TrueCrypt is designed to be easily used by the average PC user, but the extensive documentation of the software can be deemed highly technical for most. It is understandable for those who are already are well aware of the urgent needs for enhanced system protection.

TrueCrypt offers two different methods for its usage. The first option allows its users to easily encrypt a single document or a massive volume of information on existing drives. The amount of space required will depend on the amount of information for encryption. It is possible to scramble an individual file, or users can hide large portions and folders of information on their PCs. Once the encrypted data has been created, the information can be easily mounted just as you would any other type of Windows disk, allowing the user to read and write directly while also transparently process needed data. The encrypted files are useless to those who do not possess the unique password.

The second mode of operation is designed for a full system file encryption. This can be used to scramble the totality of information on your PC. By encrypting your entire system as a unit, this provides enhanced protection against unwanted intruders by scrambling all types of headers and other online activity that Windows would normally store without your consent or knowledge. Information such as temp files and restore points are hidden from view. This also means that your computer cannot be rebooted should you forget your unique password information. TrueCrypt will allow you to create a backup CD in cases where recovery is needed due to corrupted encrypted disks, but in order for the CD to work, the password is still required. There is no way to reset this login information.

A unique feature of the TrueCrypt software is that it provides the remarkable abilities to create alternative hidden volumes of information which can be useful for those who fear being forced to reveal these needed passwords and keys. A second key can be applied to the same volume of information that will secretly direct the user to reveal a completely different set of files and data (steganography). Most users will require the storage space of only 40 GB in order to effectively implement and install the TrueCrypt file encryption software. This seems a very small price to pay for enhanced system protection and security.



51 thoughts on “Encrypting Files, Volumes, and your Entire Computer: TrueCrypt”

  1. Oh my, the security weenie inside me is crying out.
    First, encryption is not true security. It deters the casual user with casual cracking tools; true. But any encryption scheme can be broken with a big enough hammer and enough time.
    Let’s say I want to encrypt my secret plans for world domination. I apply some scheme to it and get an encrypted file. The NSA is on to me though. When I mail the file to my minions, they get a copy of that encrypted file. They keep a copy of it in one of their data repositories and tell one of their supercomputers to keep hammering at it. Given enough time and petraflops they decrypt it, read the file, and spoil my plans to have the world groveling at my feet. Drat.
    Encryption is a tool that can make casual attackers stay back.
    But it doesn’t work for truly dedicated ones.

    • Agreed, nothing is 100% secure. However with the right key length, it can be a serious deterrent and as you indicate, they would need to be highly motivated and have a huge amount of resources at their disposal to work on decrypting your files. Generally not an issue unless you get on the government radar for some reason.

      • I agree with your view. By and large, the typical user will not require extensive encryption because their potential threats will usually just be nosy family members or maybe the odd attacker that’s just snooping around for laughs.

        Cater to your audience right?

        • I wouldn’t say that. Just imagine you get a virus or something that spies on your pc and is meant to transfer files to the criminal. You will be happy then to have encrypted files.

        • Thank you David. I could use the extra protection. Having encrypted files harder to break into is needed.

        • That is true though I do know people who have been hacked by online gamers that they had as rivals. Those were World Of Warcraft players. They broke the encryption. So, you don’t want to piss off the wrong people, especially when they can hack into your computer while you are sleeping. Still, like you say, for the most part, I am trying to avoid my employees and family members from accessing my personal files. Therefore, a short character string suffices for encryption purposes.

      • You understand my point here.
        We could get into the nits of this (S/MIME does encryption but the Certificate Authorities that establish trust can be compromised, for example) but that’s not even the takeaway.
        I just hope unsophisticated users don’t look for some MagicBullet in encryption. I fear they might.

        • If you put it that way, there’s basically no possible way to be completely secure while computing. Doubly so if you’re computing from a networked computer. Communication in general is inherently insecure – I think the best that the average user can really do is to encrypt, select decent passwords and not be stupid online. Casual deterrence will remove the vast, vast, vast majority of attackers.

      • Still a good idea to point out that a very motivated person or a software designed by very motivated person could crack into the data despite the encryption… Just a reminder for people that you can never be too careful, really, and that what you really want to keep secret should be protected or should not be there at all to be found.

    • True, if some technically-inclined individuals are very determined to unlock the secrets of a particular machine and if they have the skills to do so, David’s suggestion would ultimately fail. But then, as David said, you’d only have to worry about that if you’ve attracted special attention from the higher ranks of the government. So, I’ll try TrueCrypt on my computer for some select, personal files and not worry too much.

    • have to agree with you on that one, there isn’t a perfect algorythm, but I’m pretty sure that is possible to have a 99.9% uncrackable encryption, just look at the bitcoin system, it’s all around algorythms and I’ve never heard of anyone being able to crack the system and generate bitcoin from nothing, yes, this would be possible if the system was cracked, but those are just my two cents on this.

  2. This is partially relevant to me. This past week, one of our clients had an external hard drive stolen from an employee’s vehicle. This hard drive was used as a part of a rotating offsite backup solution, which meant that the drive contained an image of their server along with all of the data contained on it.

    The type of data they work with is extremely sensitive (law industry), and requires high security. While the loss was a pain, it wasn’t as large of a compromise as it could have been due to encryption as a part of the backup process.

    Remember, if you have sensitive information stored on your computer or drives, the least you could do is encrypt it.

    • Now, that is a very sensible idea, and a good use of current encryption tools. Someone that steals a drive from a car is (usually) just trying to sell hardware for cash. The fence might reformat it to resell it, but a reasonable encryption will keep them from getting to your data.

      Again, all bets are off if you are The Guardian. They just smash them into pieces then.

  3. True Crypt is a really great programm. It is easy to use, fast and has a really strong encryption. I feel really safe with having encrypted the very personal files on my pc with this software. And it’s free too.

  4. Thanks so much for this detailed review of TrueCrypt. I did not know about it, let alone that it is open source and free to use.

    I checked out the Web site and I’m impressed that it is so user-friendly. Encryption as a process always seems rather intimidating to me but they have make it incredibly simple. That’s commendable.

    I agree for the average user, the level of encryption should be sufficient. It is far better than no encryption at all. You just ever know when you may experience the loss of or theft of your computer.

  5. I have never used encryption on any of my files to be honest. I’ve put passwords on some personal files like diaries and photo albums when my little sistier still felt like inviding my personal space but that is all – I just never felt the need of it. But after reading the article – which is great by the way, containing all the info needed and still easy to understand even if you are not a techie – I begin to wonder. I don’t plan world domination (tho I want some Despicable me minions!) but there are some projects and data I may like to protect.

    • That’s my issue too. Most of my relatives are nosy and they like tinkering with my stuff! I don’t have sensitive files but it’s better to encrypt some select items just to avoid more questions about my life they really have no business with.

    • You remind me of a lot of casual computer users who tend to put their passwords and user names in a single file and leave it unsecured on their desktop. No offense, most people are that way. I was that way at one point too. I used to put all my user names and passwords in emails that I sent to myself. I’d just search my email inbox when I needed to recall a user name or password. Ha-ha. Those days are long gone as one of my family members used my computer and I suspected that he searched my e-mail for my passwords.

  6. TrueCrypt is a really powerful piece of encryption software. The current supercomputers are incapable of cracking through some of the encryption types offered in TrueCrypt. However, encryption to me seems like something only really paranoid people do. I don’t find myself needing to use it to protect my files.

    • Yeah unless you work for a company or work on the Internet, you really don’t need it. I’ve never found myself in that situation so I’ve never had any need for any type of encryption. Will probably be useful in the future so thanks for the heads up on the option.

      • Well, if you already got into a situation where you would have needed it it would be too late. It’s a prevention thing. Prepare for the unthinkable to be prepared when it happens nonetheless.

        • I agree. It’s far better to be proactive and prepare for unforeseen circumstances. I think it’s great that TruCrypt makes the process user friendly regardless of our level of technical expertise.

          I see encryption in much the way that I see insurance. We don’t ever want to have a need for it, but yet, if we didn’t have it we would be far worse off. With computers, there is always the risk of theft, especially when traveling, or even at the office or at home. We just never know. And of course there are numerous other ways that our files could be accessed.

  7. First time ever hearing of TrueCrypt and after reading about it here, it definitely looks like something I need. My current security isn’t all that great, so TrueCrypt seems like what I need to consider using for my computer and it’s contents.

  8. I’ve used a similar tool once which had me create some sort of encrypted image file and I could mount/unmount it and use it at will that all the data sent there was automatically encrypted, never heard of TrueCrypt until now, but I’m definitely going to check it deeply, also regarding encryption but password wise, if anybody wants to try, there is a app out there called LastPass that does an awesome job providing password security management.

    • I can confirm that TrueCrypt is the best one out there when it comes to freeware encryption programms. Maybe they even are superior to the commercial ones. How is the software called you used till now?

  9. I find that encrypting is very easy to break nowadays. I don’t find it the inconvenience of encrypting everything is worth all the trouble for being anonymous. I don’t really have anything to hide either so it’s not necessary for me. If you really want it to be safe from anyone, just never connect it to the internet and leave it offline.

    • I’d assume you mean do not connect your sensitive data to the internet, not to entirely disconnect. That’s an option but if you keep some sensitive files in your computer without any protection, there are still some risks. I know several people’s uh intimate activities being spread to the internet when they got their PC repaired, not by their own doing but by the technicians.

    • Well, that may be practical but how realistic is it for most people not to get online? It’s just a protection, no 100 % security. You always have something to hide. And if it’s just personal photos, a curriculum vitae or your tax stuff (that more and more is only available online).

  10. I’m absolutely agree with the need to encrypt your important files. Currently, we are exposed to different types of intrusions and the average user isn’t aware of the danger that means. However, many encryption programs use language too technical to basic users and that is why this task becomes a bit “heavy”.

    The alternative that you present in this article is interesting. The options offered by TrueCrypt seem solid and after a couple of directions we can achieve the desired goal. Computer security is vital as technology and communication advances. Thank you for your recommendation.

    • I agree. I think a lot of people live in blissful ignorance about the risks of intrusion. It’s the old idiom “better safe than sorry.” Until I read this article, I never thought of encryption. I do the basics: antivirus, anti-spyware etc., but never thought of encryption. As others point out, nothing is perfect, but an imperfect defence (that does seem pretty strong) is better than no defence.

  11. decryption seems like a lot of work. I guess you can use it for sensitive and personal files. But to use it on your entire system with all its data, to recover everything would be momentous, I’d say this is ideal for very sensitive data.

    • No, actually it is really easy. The one thing that would be work is the time it needs to encrypt files, at least if you want to encrypt a lot of them. But that is none of your business because that does the software for you.

  12. Seems like quite a cool idea. Especially with the recent news that’s going on with the NSA. I might check this out thanks!

    • It is cool and very helpful to have TrueCrypt. I’m not sure if it will fully protect you from the NSA but it will certainly give you a level of protection against NSA and more importantly, other groups that might want to use your data for criminal activities.

  13. I have used truecrypt and it is pretty good, but like others have said it does tend to be a hassle when encrypting files. For now I will just stick with unencrypted files until something better comes along.

    • You can just choose which files to encrypt. I don’t want to worry about all the info on my phone, just some few select files.

      • Exactly. Encryption takes time and effort. Just use it on important and sensitive files.

        • I don’t see why people believe this. Of course encrypting files needs more time as not encrypting files but it’s not as bad as years ago. And it is worth the effort.

  14. I have never heard of True Crypt before, but you can never have enough protection. I will look into this program more and consider using it to add additional protection to my computer — especially when I start making more money through my computer.

  15. TrueCrypt is definitely great for covering the basics depending on your needs, but I agree with LarryLoeb and the author that an entity or person with the resources/ability could find a way to peek. They would need an excessive amount of time and persistence, though. Nonetheless, if you’re just trying to keep housemates or the general unauthorized eyes from peering at your data, TrueCrypt is probably the most user-friendly means to encrypt on Windows.

  16. One thing that the casual user might want to try doing is to encrypt any files that are being stored in an external drive. I know of some people that will keep an external drive with pictures and home videos in a different location and rarely use it. Basically, like putting your photo album away for safe keeping.

    Encrypt that if you want to protect your privacy in case it gets stolen?

    • That’s an excellent idea. An external drive is just as vulnerable as online storage, albeit in different ways. There is always the risk of theft, and just as in the case of having a phone or a laptop stolen, your data is at risk. Encrypting it would give some added security and peace of mind.

    • I’ve known people who got their external storage stolen where some sensitive files are stored in and boy was it a nightmare. I guess they’re lucky the thieves weren’t technically inclined and probably sold it after wiping off the data, but if they were people who would’ve used those files against my friends, tsk. It would be worse than a nightmare.

  17. I never saw the need for software like this. No one has access to my computer but me. Why would I need to encrypt anything? Although maybe the software is just targeted at people who share computers, use public computers (like at work), stuff like that. It just seems like overkill to me.

    • It’s good you don’t need the protection. There are still a lot of people who can have sensitive information in their computers which would need additional protection. For example, I myself am using a netbook. If someone decides to steal my netbook and my info isn’t protected, they can just take the list of passwords I have online and use it to obtain money from my bank.

  18. I like the idea behind TrueCrypt. I love the idea behind full system file encryption. I just get a wee bit nervous about the prospect of having my entire system scrambled like that. I may try it on a few files and see how that goes.

    Thanks for sharing!

  19. I like that truecrypt lets one encrypt as many files as desired or the entire computer. That is a nice option. I’ve had friends who were hacked and ended up having their entire file library exposed to the perpetrators. Truecrypt would have helped prevent that. I’ll have to check it out, as I have yet to encrypt anything on my computer. Thank you for the recommendation!

  20. I would personalty use TrueCryot to encrypt all system data but I would hate to think what would happen if, for some reason I would have forgotten my password!

    I love the fact that it only needs about 40GB because I have plenty more! My PC will not even feel those 40GB needed to implement this.

    Thanks for sharing, David! There can never be enough extra protection 😉

  21. I never really thought that encrypting your files can be a sure fire way to secure your files. I mean, if an average person can crack a copy of Windows which was made by one of the biggest tech companies in the world, I’m sure it’s not big deal when it comes to your files.

    But it’s good to know that there are applications like this that are very easy to use, it might not be a true blue defense for real hackers but it will help keep the others at bay.

  22. TrueCrypt? I’ve never heard of this application before. I don’t really secure my important files and with all the new about leaks and stuff maybe it’s time I make a move now.

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