USB drives and external hard drives are useful tools for backing up data or transporting files from one computer to another. Yet research shows that many people are careless with these devices. A study conducted in London and New York by British security company Credent Technologies found that 12,500 iPods, laptops, and USB drives were left in taxis during a six-month period. Even if you consider yourself a responsible individual who would never let such a thing occur, encrypting external storage devices is the best way to ensure your data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
What’s worse than losing your own data is the risk of comprising company information. According to a recent PC World article, in January an external hard drive was stolen from the car of a Kaiser Permanente employee. The device contained information related to 15,500 of the health organization’s patients, including their full names and medical record numbers. While the risk for fraud was negligible since the data did not contain social security numbers or financial information, the employee, who waited a week to tell her employer, was fired for putting this information on an external storage device without permission or adequate encryption.
There are a variety of free or inexpensive software options that allow you to encrypt an external storage device. Whatever you choose, it’s always best to evaluate the best option based on the type of security you need. One free product is True Crypt (link to http://www.truecrypt.org/), which offers open-source encryption software. The program doesn’t encrypt the entire drive but instead allows you to choose which files to protect.
If you’re wary about the reliability of encryption software (and admittedly no program is completely infallible), certain operating systems, such as Windows 7, include encryption capabilities. Windows 7’s BitLocker to Go protection (only available in the Ultimate and Enterprise versions) allows encryption on external drives.
Cybercriminals love portable devices because they offer easy access to potentially sensitive information, so don’t give them the chance to defraud you—encrypt your USB and external hard drives.