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Encrypt Now!

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In my new job, we sometimes receive reports of devices which have gone missing or been stolen. We want to get a picture of what, when and where and we want to understand what data was stored on the device and may now be at risk. However, another fundamental question is whether the device was encrypted. If encryption can be asserted with supporting evidence, we can largely breathe a sigh of relief because, although the device still needs replacing, we are confident that the data is not going to be exposed.

What is encryption? It is a kind of mathematically-mediated magic that means, without a suitable key (normally a strong password) to unlock it, the storage device will appear to be full of random junk. It sounds complex but the good news is that, nowadays, most devices make it easy and painless to implement. Recent portable devices running Android or iOS are often now encrypted by default (certainly once you’ve set up a PIN or passphrase) and it is easy to apply on many other Operating Systems (boo to Windows 10 Home for not bundling it in). My experience of having worked with a range of encrypted devices is that it might make booting up a little slower but doesn’t have any effect on regular use of the system.

Losing a device is rare (I’m working in a hub where I should be seeing all reports across the entire university) but it could happen to anyone so my considered advice is to encrypt now and keep a record of when and how you did it. If you do lose one of them, it not only makes life easier for anyone investigating the case but also means an unpleasant circumstance won’t be as awkward as it could have been for you and your data has a good assurance of being safe.