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Why encryption can be a double edged sword

Encryption is great. Once a laptop or PC is encrypted anyone who steals them can’t access your files by simply pulling out the hard drive and plugging it into a different system. Unless you know the password you are stumped. This is the main reason I tend to encrypt all my clients systems.


But there are some pretty big limitations when using encryption on a system which I have found over the years.  These observations are based on using Truecrypt and might be different with other products.

1. You can no longer access a system at boot.  You need to type the encryption password when the system starts and this can be a pain when you are remotely supporting a system. Unless there is someone physically on site you will not be able to gain access.

2. Forget doing a system restore on an encrypted volume on a Windows system.  I tested this one yesterday on my own systems as I need to restore a clients system to a point before the encryption was put on and this is something I have never needed to do.  I now have a nice shiny brick in the form of a laptop sitting on my desk.  I have also seen system restores that would not have affected the encryption that have still caused issues on Windows systems. You have been warned!!

3. When you come across a Windows system that will not boot you will have to decrypt the system first before you can do anything.  This can takes hours (have seen one laptop take 7 hours to decrypt a 160 GB hard drive before).

4. What happens when you don’t do backups and the hard drive fails? You can’t really call this a limitation of encryption but rather a failure on the part of the user or company to see the value of backups.  If your hard drive starts to fail and you can’t decrypt it in time you will lose all your files. I never implement encryption unless I am happy there is some form of backup strategy in place.

5. Finally what happens if you forget your encryption password? You lose access to all the files that have been encrypted, for ever.

If you weigh up the pro and cons of using encryption the advantages would usually still win. If you do implement encryption though be aware of the limitations.

About the Author

P1020114

Hi I’m Chris Wakefield the owner of ComTech IT Support. I provide Windows, Mac and Linux based IT Support to small businesses in Stirling, Alloa and Falkirk.

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