Encrypt Your Data with TrueCrypt

This is a bit off-topic, but it’s hard to go a month these days without hearing of a laptop walking away with sensitive information, like social security and credit card numbers. The privacy of your digital data is also under siege from the authorities, even here in the US.

Even here in the US you say? Yes, particularly in the US as it turns out. Check out this PC World article, which concludes the following about your rights, even as an American citizen, when crossing the border:

  • No evidence is needed to take your laptop, cell phone, camera, or other electronic device. They have the right to both view all the information on the device and download/mirror it, no reason required or provided.

  • Anything can be searched, including photographs, personal banking, stored or unopened email, etc. There are no limitations to the search.

  • Seized devices may be kept indefinitely (read: forever). Again, no reason whatsoever is needed for the seizure.

Given the insecurity of data on portable devices these days, I thought a quick mention of the 5.0 release of TrueCrypt would be timely.

From the web site:

TrueCrypt is a software system for establishing and maintaining an on-the-fly-encrypted volume (data storage device). On-the-fly encryption means that data are automatically encrypted or decrypted right 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/keyfile(s) or correct encryption keys. Entire file system is encrypted (e.g.., file names, folder names, contents of every file, free space, meta data, etc).

Basically, you can create a volume or drive (hard drive, flash drive, etc.) as an encrypted partition. It can be of any size, and once created you can mount it as a regular drive. Encryption is automatic, real-time, and transparent. Without the password and/or key file you’re not getting in, period. But that only helps a little, as you could be forced to give up your password under duress. The big thing is the encrypted information isn’t detectable - it appears as random information stored on a drive, undetectable from general garbage. Unless you tell somebody it’s there, nobody will know you have an encrypted data partition.

It runs on Windows, MacOS, and Linux, and a TrueCrypt partition made on one can be used on any of the others. New with v5 is a GUI for Linux, so you no longer have to use the command line to make, mount, and unmount your volumes.

TrueCrypt is free and open source software, and it’s an excellent resource for data and drive encryption, particularly for laptops or thumb drives that are easy to misplace. If you deal with sensitive data or you just value your privacy, I’d recommend giving TrueCrypt a test drive.