# Monday, September 07, 2009

One of my most liked and second most used feature of Windows 7 is BitLocker To Go. Put simply it allows you to change ANY portable storage medium into an encrypted filestore. The ANY keyword here is important, because now a days when you buy some USB thumbdrives, they'll have some form of encryption software that allows you to repartition some of it's storage as an encrypted store. But as mentioned it's only for SOME of the USB thumbdrives, and it's only for the THUMBDRIVES. BitLocker To Go will allow you to encrypt that 320GB hard disk which you use to backup your system with!

But before all that you'd have to first setup BitLocker To Go on the drive you want to encrypt. This is easily done by just right clicking on the drive in question and selecting "Turn On BitLocker"

01-in menu

Then you'll be asked on what password to use, and then you're given an option to save a RECOVERY KEY file to your system.

03-Save Key

This key is what will allow you to unlock the drive if you forgot your password, I've already used this feature more than once since I keep forgetting the passwords to my test media all the time. My keys are stored in SkyDrive so they are ever present if I need them. (Of course there's always the interesting topic of why keep such an important thing in the cloud?)

And after that, you might think that your drive is now a fully encrypted filestore right? WRONG! After the initial setup you'll be greeted with this.

04-Encrypt

Your drive will then undergo an encryption process to lock it's contents. Personally I have no idea how much free space is needed on your drive when you do this because it seems like you can still use the drive normally while it's being encrypted. So it's really interesting to me how it's achieving this. One thing you need to be aware of though, this process TAKES A WHILE to complete! That's why there's a PAUSE button there. If you have a need to eject the drive BEFORE IT FINISHES ENCRYPTION press the PAUSE button FIRST! So.. the burning question of how long does this take? Depends on the size and speed of your drive I'm guessing. I'd say  10~15 MINUTES per 1GB of storage space. For comparison purposes I encrypted my 320GB backup hard disk over the course of 2 working days.

THIS IS A ONE TIME PROCESS! So once it finishes, that's it.. your drive is now a fully encrypted filestore.

Performance wise it's obviously slower than an unencrypted source, but for just moving files around it feels normal to me. Haven't done any throughput test on it to see wheter I can play 1080P videos off it properly though.

And now for the bad news, only Windows 7 Ultimate/Enterprise Editions able to CREATE BitLocker To Go drives. But ANY OTHER Windows 7 Edition can read/write to the drive once unlocked with the password.

If you plugged the now encrypted drive to a version of Windows OTHER than Windows 7, that's when it get's interesting. First of all you'll be able to see that the contents of the drive is pretty much gibbrish.

btg-filecontents

And you'd best not touch the contents too in case you accidentally break anything. What you need to do is to run the "BitLockerToGo.exe" application which is the program to unlock the contents of the drive.

btg-non7password

And then after unlocking you're giving a view into the drive's encrypted contents (contents censored, note there are no video files in there)

btg-reader

And you may READ from the drive contents. Yes, you may read but you CANNOT WRITE to it. Obviously this is a major setback if you need the encrypted storage to shuffle files between a Windows 7 and non Windows 7 machine. For that you could probably just use your thumbdrive's own encryption store creator

But if you're just using it to transport data between Windows 7 systems, want to encrypt any sort of portable media (I wonder how long does encrypting a 1TB hard drive would take?) BitLocker To Go is a really neat feature to use in Windows 7 Ultimate/Enterprise Edition! And I LOVE IT!


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