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Encryption: Never Leave Home Without It

As portable drives have gotten physically smaller and larger in storage capacity, they’ve become an indespensible gadget for many.  If you use yours to store vital and sensitive information, you need to secure that information with encryption.  I should not need to tell you about the long list of problems that would arise, were you to ever misplace the drive or have it stolen.

TrueCrypt is a free and open source on-the-fly encryption utility that I cannot live without.  It is very easy to use and it works on Windows Vista/XP, Mac OS X, and Linux.  TrueCrypt works by providing a virtual drive to your system that you can use just as you would any other normal drive.  All of the encryption takes place behind the scenes as you read/write data from/to the encrypted volume.  You can either encrypt your entire USB drive, or place a file within the drive to store the encrypted volume.  From the FAQ:

Q: How can I use TrueCrypt on a USB flash drive?

A: You have two options:

  1. Encrypt the entire USB flash drive. However, you will not be able run TrueCrypt from the USB flash drive.
    Note: Windows does not support multiple partitions on USB flash drives.
  2. Create a TrueCrypt file container on the USB flash drive (for information on how to do so, see the chapter Beginner’s Tutorial, in the TrueCrypt User Guide). If you leave enough space on the USB flash drive (choose an appropriate size for the TrueCrypt container), you will also be able to store TrueCrypt on the USB flash drive (along with the container – not in the container) and you will be able to run TrueCrypt from the USB flash drive (see also the chapter Traveler Mode in the TrueCrypt User Guide).

TrueCrypt is an excellent utility and it will even encrypt a system volume (where you have your operating system installed). My only complaint about this feature is that only Windows system drives are supported. You would think an open source project would support such a feature on Linux before it would Windows. In any case, it’s a great tool to have when you’re on the go.

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