Protect Your Files in Windows 7 Using BitLocker – Part 1
BitLocker Drive Encryption was introduced in Windows Vista but is not as widely used as other security systems on the market. But don’t let that fool you — it is a powerful security system that should be given a second look.
You can use BitLocker Drive Encryption on not only the drive that Windows is installed on, but on other internal hard drives as well.
Why Use BitLocker?
BitLocker Drive Encryption helps protect your data by creating a small partition on the drive as well as encrypting the contents on the drive itself. If your hard drive or system is lost or falls into the wrong hands, your data will be protected.
Not only does BitLocker require a thumb drive or a smart card, but even if your laptop and thumb drive are both stolen, the individual would still need to know your password to unlock the drive. This adds an additional layer of security that is nearly unrivaled.
Not only that, but unlike the Encrypting File System which allows you to encrypt individual files, BitLocker Drive Encryption encrypts the entire drive. Meaning the second you move a file into the drive, it is automatically encrypted, and when you move a file off of the drive, it becomes unencrypted. This makes it much easier to manage your encrypted files so you never have to double check to make sure every important file is encrypted.
You can even access a drive locked with BitLocker Drive Encryption over a Windows network, as long as you have the encryption password. You can also set a drive to automatically unlock right when you log into your computer.
In both Vista and Windows 7 BitLocker is available in Ultimate and Enterprise editions.
Setting up BitLocker in Windows 7
In Windows Vista, setting up BitLocker was a troublesome procedure, forcing you to manually shrink your current partition and create a BitLocker partition. Microsoft then created the BitLocker Drive Preparation Tool, most likely after realizing that the current method was a bit too technical for new users.
In Windows 7 however, the BitLocker Drive Preparation is fully integrated into the control panel and does most, if not all, of the work for you.
You can encrypt a drive right from Windows Explorer — simply right click on the drive, and choose Turn on BitLocker. After going through the setup process you can choose a password and your drive will be fully encrypted.
You can also modify more advanced settings from within the Group Policy Editor. To do this, navigate to Administrative Templates -> Windows Components -> BitLocker Drive Encryption to see specific settings which can be modified.
From here, you can modify settings for fixed data drives, operating system drives, removable data drives, as well as general settings like how to recover BitLocker-protected drives. One notable setting allows you to configure the use of passwords, being able to set passwords, and minimum password complexity allowed.
You can also now modify settings for the pin used in Windows Startup and can choose how long the pin should be (up to 20 characters) as well as enabling extra characters such as symbols, uppercase and lowercase letters, and numbers.
Unlike before, BitLocker only creates a small 100MB partition that is fully hidden so an individual cannot accidentally or purposefully overwrite or delete the partition. While you can see the partition in Disk Management, it is well secured to ensure nothing happens to lower the integrity of the protection.
Is BitLocker Right For You?
BitLocker Drive Encryption is a great, fully integrated way of protecting your hard drives from unauthorized use. However, while the encryption is powerful, it can be a bit over the top for users who don’t fully require the encryption.
For example, if you forget your thumb drive key for your laptop, you could end up with a locked machine and be unable to access it until you recover it. Because of this, day to day use can be a bit bothersome with extra work just to get into your own system.
All that aside, for those who require heavy protection such as enterprise users or users with very important or confidential data, BitLocker Drive Encryption can be a very valuable asset to save you, and possibly your company, time and money when fighting unauthorized access.
BitLocker Drive Encryption does its job very well, and in my opinion has risen above alternative encryption systems, both paid and free.