December 04, 2012, 2:00 PM — Losing your USB flash drive before a big presentation is a terrible way to start a Monday. Losing a drive that also contains valuable personal data or confidential company information will ruin your whole weekand maybe your career. Luckily, Windows users can easily hedge their bets against such disasters by using the free BitLocker To Go utility to quickly encrypt portable drives.
One of the best-kept secrets of Windows 8, BitLocker To Go is the latest incarnation of an encryption tool that's been included with select versions of Windows since Microsoft first introduced BitLocker disk encryption with Vista, way back in 2007. Like most encryption utilities, BitLocker protects your data by making it unreadable or inaccessible without a password or some other form of unique key. To secure the data, BitLocker uses an AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) encryption algorithm with a 128-bit key plus a data-mixing algorithmic function (known as an Elephant diffuser) for disk-related security features not offered by AES alone.
Not only does BitLocker give users the ability to encrypt their OS volume to prevent access to a system and the data stored on it, but a feature called BitLocker To Go (introduced with Windows 7) enables encryption of externally attached portable drives. It uses the same encryption technology, but instead of protecting an OS volume, its designed to secure data stored on a portable drive, such as a USB flash or hard-disk drive. And with Windows 8, Microsoft has updated BitLocker To Go with some new features that make it faster and easier to use than ever before.
Using BitLocker To Go on Windows 8
While the lion's share of the new features is meant to reduce headaches for IT professionals managing BitLocker use in business, Microsoft has also sped up the initial drive encryption process. BitLocker To Go, which is available on Windows 8 Professional and Enterprise editions, now has the ability to progressively encrypt only the portions of a drive you're actually using, instead of the entire drive (as was the case with Windows 7). The old method is still available for disks that already contain data, but if youve got a fresh, clean drive youd like to protect with BitLocker To Go, enabling drive encryption can be completed in seconds, not minutes or even hours, depending on the size of the drive. Instead, when you add new data the drive, it will be automatically encrypted while BitLocker To Go is enabled.