By their nature, hard drives are loaded with sensitive information. From personal checking accounts and corporate tax and payroll records to client lists, trade secrets, confidential information, protected health information, and beyond, every bit of data residing on a computer drive could be compromised if it falls into the wrong hands. Whether you’re concerned about protecting your personal finances, encrypting sensitive corporate data, or complying with government regulations, full hard drive encryption plays an important role in the overall security of your data.

Threats to Hard Disks

Unauthorized people can get their hands on your computer’s data in several ways including accessing your computer when you’re not around, physically stealing it, or installing spyware on it without your knowledge. Each of these threats is serious.

Given enough time alone with your computer, a coworker could easily copy files to a USB stick or even recover deleted files. Laptops can be stolen in an instant, giving thieves plenty of time to mine the disk drive for useful information. Spyware can be installed without your knowledge simply by visiting a compromised website. When this happens, your data could be silently transmitted to a remote identity thief.

Another threat exists when you throw away or recycle an old computer. Even if you reformat your disk drive, the data residing on it can be recovered by anyone with inexpensive data recovery software.

Full Hard Disk Encryption’s Role in Protecting Data

While you could use strong passwords, individual file encryption, locks and keys, antispyware, and disk wiping tools to secure your hard disk from these threats, full hard disk encryption ensures that your entire disk drive is unreadable to unauthorized individuals.

You may already be accustomed to using file encryption to lock individual files and documents. However, file encryption only works if you remember to do it. Full hard disk encryption takes decision making out of the process and automatically encrypts everything on the disk including new files. It also offers protection from pre-boot attacks where hackers attempt to bypass security controls before they are fully loaded.

When your entire hard disk has been encrypted, it also brings peace of mind when the time comes to dispose of the disk. Since the disk is unreadable due to its encryption, would-be data thieves who prey on recycled and donated computers will be thwarted. The same is true of hard disks infiltrated by spyware. Even if spyware worms its way into your hard drive, the data it transmits is worthless because it is indecipherable.

Hard Disk Encryption and Compliance

Regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) require applicable entities, often referred to as “covered entities,” to protect certain information. In HIPAA’s case, the new Omnibus Rule extends this responsibility to “business associates” of covered entities. For example, lawyers who receive protected health information as part of a case must protect that information just as the health care provider who generated it must do. Full disk encryption is one measure that can protect this information and aid in compliance.

Hard disks are vulnerable, even when they reside inside a locked office. Full disk encryption adds an extra, impenetrable layer of protection.

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