Encrypting your laptop demystified

On The Intercept, Micah Lee follows up on his great primer on NSA-proof passwords with a soup-to-nuts tutorial on encrypting your laptop.

There are good reasons to encrypt your laptop no matter who you are. People lose their laptops and have them stolen all the time. Unless your laptop is encrypted, all the data on the hard-drive can be trivially recovered by identity thieves, who have easy-to-use tools to scan for compromising material including your passwords and logins for your bank and other services.

If someone gets physical access to your computer and you aren't using disk encryption, they can very easily steal all of your files.

It doesn't matter if you have a good password because the attacker can simply boot to a new operating system off of a USB stick, bypassing your password, to look at your files. Or they can remove your hard disk and put it in a different computer to gain access. All they need is a screwdriver, a second computer, and a $10 USB enclosure.

Computers have become an extension of our lives and private information continually piles up on our hard disks. Your computer probably contains work documents, photos and videos, password databases, web browser histories, and other scattered bits of information that doesn't belong to anyone but you. Everyone should be running full-disk encryption on their laptops.

Encrypting your disk will protect you and your data in case your laptop falls into the wrong hands, whether because you accidentally left it somewhere, because your home or office was burglarized, or because it was seized by government agents at home or abroad.

It's worth noting that no one has privacy rights when crossing borders. Even if you're a U.S. citizen entering the United States, your Constitutional rights do not apply at the border, and border agents reserve the right to copy all of the files off of your computer or phone if they choose to. This is also true in Canada, and in other countries around the world. If you plan on traveling with electronic devices, disk encryption is the only way you have a chance at protecting your data if border agents insist on searching you. In some situations it might be in your best interest to cooperate and unlock your device, but in others it might not. Without disk encryption, the choice is made for you: the border agents get all your data.

Encrypting Your Laptop Like You Mean It [Micah Lee/The Intercept]

(Image: AES avalanche, Simpsons, CC-BY-SA)