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It recently occurred to me that the data on a typical computer's hard drive is not in the least bit safe. I've taken hard drives that have had corrupted Windows installations and put them in my secondary HDD bay and, lo and behold, I can read/copy/edit any file I want to. The password for a user is useless if the hard drive is plugged into another computer.

I have personal, as well as business files, on my laptop, and it really bothers me that if my laptop is stolen all those files are at the mercy of the thief. What can I do to keep my files safe from bad guys?

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Full disk encryption –  iglvzx Jun 14 '12 at 1:09

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You're talking about two different threats.

One is of loss of data - back it up!

For the other there's a few different approaches. First, you can go for file or container level encryption with EFS or truecrypt respectively. With truecrypt you can also have a keyfile on a separate drive

Alternatively you could go for full disk encryption with bitlocker or truecrypt on windows or dmcrypt on linux. There are also hard drives that encrypt by default.

You could also install tracking software like lojak or the open source prey to track your system should it be stolen.

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Take a look at TrueCrypt, a tool for encrypting files and folders (easier to use) as well as partitions and entire disks (more complicated to setup). It's exhaustive, fast, free and open-source.

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I was writing a comment about TrueCrypt when yours popped up. –  hdhondt Jun 14 '12 at 1:23

For the purposes hard disk encryption my preference is BitLocker, which is provided in at least the Enterprise and Ultimate versions of Windows 7 and Vista. With Windows 8, also the Professional edition will apparently incorporate BitLocker.

With TMP hardware (pretty common in laptops nowadays) run time operation is entirely transparent to the extent that there is no observable overhead resulting from encryption/decryption of data on the fly.

Setting up BitLocker is very straight-forward. The initial encryption of volumes does take some time, but the computer can be used during the process with little impact on user experience.

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Actually, TPM doesn't affect the performance. It's the AES instruction inside recent CPUs that help accelerate the process. As it was, AES instruction gives 100% acceleration on BitLocker tomshardware.com/reviews/… TPM helps ensure that the boot path isn't modified, so attacker with physical access can't simply put a software rootkit to read the password. –  Martheen Cahya Paulo Jun 15 '12 at 11:34

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