Keep my data safe from l33t hax0rz
May 3, 2011 1:31 PM   Subscribe

I’m going to buy a laptop soon that may end up holding sensitive data. I need to make sure that, if it is stolen, it’s nearly impossible to get the data off the hard drive. I’m a newbie at dealing with workstation security and drive encryption, so please talk me through my options and best practices. I’m willing to pay more for a laptop designed for this purpose if that exists.

I’m going to start consulting and will buy my own laptop for business. I’m going to be independent, so I’m all the tech support I’ve got. I can handle most tasks, but security & encryption are new to me.

So what are the best practices I need to think of? So far I have 1) strong login password 2) encrypted hard drive (more on that below) and 3) keep it somewhere secure when not in use. What else?

I especially need help with the drive encryption side of things. I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill sensitive data. I’m talking “In February, the US Government fined a company $3.4 million for a data breach” level of sensitive (true story). What solutions / products / open-source alternatives do I want to look into so that no one can get the data if they don’t have my password? And how do I make it likely that I can get by data back if part of my hard drive is corrupted? I’ll be asking a separate question about backups later - here I’m talking about recovery options, backing up encryption certificates, etc. (yes, I'm aware that "physical access is root access," so with any good encryption scheme there's a chance that an error will make the data inaccessible)

I realize that my clients may have rules about not storing sensitive information on equipment not owned by them, and I will abide by those rules. But you know how it goes - sooner or later, someone sends you a file they should not have sent, or you end up with information that, while not covered by the rules, should still remain confidential.

Links to relevant articles are welcome. Thanks!
posted by Tehhund to Technology (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Learn about it and it's limitations

TrueCrypt on Wikipedia

Get it:
TrueCrypt Website
posted by MrMulan at 1:39 PM on May 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Very easy, you can encrypt the whole drive, or just make a container. Use TrueCrypt. Its free, open source and basically impenetrable.
posted by handbanana at 1:39 PM on May 3, 2011

OSX has FileVault. I'm not sure how it compares to TrueCrypt.
posted by SpecialK at 1:44 PM on May 3, 2011

Best answer: Toshiba just came out with a line of self-encrypting, self-destructing hard drives. You might look into these.

Keep in mind if it is government data the IT people will want you to be fully FIPS compliant and implement full-disk (not container) encryption. TrueCrypt may be OK but it also may not be vetted.

I know that FileVault is not necessarily OK in my government location, and it's also basically impenetrable. But the locals look askance at any non-Windows computers here.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:45 PM on May 3, 2011

Best answer: Get laptop with a tpm module and get Windows 7 ultimate so you can use bitlocker. There you go, a hardware and software encryption solution
posted by bleucube at 1:52 PM on May 3, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so far! Two clarifications: First, I'll definitely be using Windows as my OS. Second, it's not government data, but there are (vague) laws around this type of data and making sure it's encrypted.

Truecrypt has definitely been the frontrunner for me, but I'm unclear on how I could recover my data if there was a problem. Recovery under EFS seemed easy - just back up the certificate to another device. Truecrypt's rescue disk sounds dodgy to me - Are there other options with more robust recovery options?
posted by Tehhund at 1:52 PM on May 3, 2011

"1) strong login password "

Your windows login password provides essentially no local data protection from an interested party regardless of strength.

Truecrypt is nice because you can backup the container independently of anything else. To a back up program an encrypted container is just another data file. You are using the encrypted container daily so you'd know if the volume becomes corrupted and you can always drop back to a previous version of the container in the advent of your live container failing.

And your backups are automatically as secure as your live data.
posted by Mitheral at 2:06 PM on May 3, 2011

Best answer: > Truecrypt's rescue disk sounds dodgy to me.

I'm not sure what is dodgy about it. To recover the data, all you have to do is boot your computer, using another harddrive, a cd, or a bootable usb, then run TrueCrypt. There is no certificate to store. All you need is a running computer, TrueCrypt, and your password.

> 1) strong login password

It's probably not strong enough. To be resilient against local bruteforce attack, your will need a passPHRASE, not a passWORD.

Disk encryption will protect you against leak of data following the theft of the laptop. There are other attack modes you will have to protect against if you want to be serious about this.

1. Social engineering. Someone distracts you at a coffee shop. Maybe they are trying to steal your bicycle. While you are not looking an accomplice copies the files from your laptop to a USB stick.

2. Targeted virus attack, such as Stucknet's attack on Iran, China's attack on Google, the Half Live 2 source code theft, and the counter-attack by Anonymous on HBGary.

3. Accidental leak, where you drag-and-drop the wrong file to your webserver. This happens about as often as the other kinds of leaks. The social security office did it, AOL did it, Google did it.
posted by gmarceau at 2:41 PM on May 3, 2011

If you are using Windows, you might want to consider BitLocker. It does whole-disk encryption, including the boot device, as well as any removable devices you choose to encrypt.
posted by fireoyster at 3:33 PM on May 3, 2011

On passphrases: Interesting article here about security and usability of passphrases.

tl;dr: It is 10 times more secure to use "this is fun" as your password, than "J4fS<2".
posted by chazlarson at 8:57 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're subject to data security laws for work you're doing, then your emplyer is, too -- can't you ask them? (I've been researching the matrix of interlocking laws at work lately myself.)
posted by wenestvedt at 11:16 AM on May 4, 2011

Some of the folks at work use hard disks that support hardware full disk encryption (FDE). Seagate makes such drives and I'm sure others do. My coworkers use some third party multiplatform BIOS/bootrom level software whose name escapes me at the moment but I can dig it up.

Ah, here it is.
posted by chairface at 9:36 AM on May 7, 2011

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