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Was wondering if there is a way to protect the contents of an external hard drive?

Is it possible to password an external hard drive, such that when its plugged to a system, a password will be required to access it?

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migrated from Dec 24 '09 at 3:12

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers. – Federico Ramponi Dec 24 '09 at 2:00
up vote 5 down vote accepted

TrueCrypt can do this. You'll want to encrypt the entire drive as seen in the second option here "Encrypt a non-system partition/drive":

alt text

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DiskCryptor - open source partition encryption solution

DiskCryptor is the only truly free solution, provided under GNU General Public License (GPLv3), which offers encryption of all disk partitions, including the system partition. The main criteria for open-source software is the availability of its source code under one of the open source licenses. The only open-source alternative to DiskCryptor that has comparable features is TrueCrypt. However, because of the restrictive license under which TrueCrypt is provided - the TrueCrypt Collective License - TrueCrypt cannot be classified as a truly free software, as it places limits on the use and modification of its source code by developers. There are other alternatives with similar functionality, but they are fully proprietary ones, which makes them unacceptable to use for protection of confidential data.

as with all encrypted drives (and especially portable drives), you should keep a backup of your files in a safe location (possibly unencrypted)!

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This might be better on SuperUser or ServerFault. Directly I do not know of any way to do this, it might be better to know what O/S you are trying to accomplish this under. You could use TrueCrypt or something similar to encrypt the disk at the volume level. However with TrueCrypt it would not prompt you for the password necessarily, it would just show the drive as full of white noise (i.e. unformatted), you would have to know to load the driver for mounting the volume and provide the appropriate password.

It should also be noted that TrueCrypt (and BitLocker as well) have been shown to have a flaw which does allow someone to intercept the loading of the secure driver and pre-empt the password verification routine giving them access to the password. This attack is non-trivial to accomplish and does require physical access to the device. You can read about the Evil Maid attack here.

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If you are using Linux, LUKS is included with most Linux distributions these days. You can use LUKS to encrypt an external hard disk, USB stick, you name it, as well.

If you are worried about needing access from Windows, you can use FreeOTFE to access LUKS encrypted drives.

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