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What's to know about password protecting and encrypting an external hard drive?

Discussion in 'Gator Bytes' started by DieAGator, May 22, 2019.

  1. DieAGator

    DieAGator GC Hall of Fame

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    And so I have a few external HDs lying around with some sensitive documents and information. They are not password protected nor encrypted. Mostly family photos and tax documents and backups from computers that came and went over the years.

    1) I really don't understand why I would need to encrypt if they were password protected. Documents on computers are normally not encrypted(?) and we seem to rely on passwords to keep unwanted visitors off our computers- same at the office.

    2) But can I password protect a hard drive that is already filled with documents or did that need to be done already and with a security program installed first?

    3) I have read about programs like TrueCrypt, AxCrypt or StorageCrypt. Maybe they are great but perhaps not needed? All I really care about is that it's difficult to read the hard drives but other than identity theft we are not talking about national security.

    This article suggests that even to password protect I need a program. How to Set Up a Password on Western Digital External Hard Drives

    I imagine then I would have to offload data, install a program, then reinstall the data to that hard drive.

    At any rate, reading about Western Digital hard drives that feature- Western Digital Security is a free software from Western Digital (popularly known as WD) to password protect WD external hard drives.

    Maybe I will call them and find out if included in newer models.
     
  2. LakeGator

    LakeGator Mostly Harmless Moderator VIP Member

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    I have ZERO knowledge of this but did a little browsing of some other links. This WD software seems a reasonable way to protect the information of your hard drives from casual theft.

    Based on my very superficial reading it seems the approach is to have a boundary security point at the point where the drive connects to the computer’s file system. This would not require that you must take any action to protect a drive other than to install the program on your computer and implement the password. This installs the security ‘gate keeper’ that will not allow your file system to access the drive. The contents of the drive are not affected by the program. It does imply that a skilled thief could bypass the ‘gate keeper’ software, somehow.

    Here is what the drive looks like in Windows file explorer before you provide the password to have the ‘gate keep’ to allow access:

    Annotation 2019-05-22 153233.jpg

    I did find the instructions on the link you provided to be almost entertaining in regard to using password complexity – or not:

    Obviously, it is absolutely critical that you never forget the password but making it too simple can make it easy to crack.
     
    • Agree Agree x 1
  3. ValdostaGatorFan

    ValdostaGatorFan GC Hall of Fame

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    I've never tried to encrypt an external drive. But, IMO, just a password does not seem like a great idea if you really want to secure it. I would not be suprised if someone could take that drive, plug it up and use some linux distrobution to gain access to the files.

    As far as encrypting it with the data on it, you have stream cyphers and block cyphers. A stream cypher would take data and encrypt it as it passes through. A block cypher takes a chunk of data and encrypts that chunk, takes another chunk and ecrypts it, etc. I'm 99% positive you could encrypt the drive with the data already on it.

    As far as suggestions, I would use something that uses AES 256 as the encryption and use a very strong passphrase/password for the key. You lose/forget the key, and well, you will see just how well your encryption works! Try looking into Bitlocker To Go or possibly purchasing Self Encrypting Drives.
     
  4. DieAGator

    DieAGator GC Hall of Fame

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    Thanks VGF. I need to learn a little more.

    Why would password protection not be enough security when often that is all we do to lock our computers at home or in office?

    I need to learn more about encryption because as you caution I could hide my data from everyone, myself included. :)
     
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  5. ValdostaGatorFan

    ValdostaGatorFan GC Hall of Fame

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    Give me access to one of those machines, and in less than 5 minutes, I can blank all of those passwords and log into those computers. All I would need is Hiren's Boot CD (installed on a bootable USB, of course). All of the passwords are stored in the SAM database on the PC. By booting to a different operating system to access the same hardware (specifically the hard drive), you bypass Windows protections on the SAM database itself. Hirens can access that database and blank out the passwords.

    Or...

    Just pull out one of the hard drives, connect it to one of the unused SATA ports on my computer, and browse the files. No password needed.

    And yes, if you encrypt, do NOT lose/forget the key.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2019
    • Informative Informative x 1