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How to Tell if Your Device Is Encrypted

Encryption is a common default on devices. Our engineers have recovered data from encrypted devices.

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The basic concept behind device encryption is simple, even if the details get a little complicated. Encryption locks stored data away using secret codes which leave the data scrambled and incomprehensible to any party that doesn’t have the codes. While the nuances of encryption entail math and computer programming, it is basically just a set of protocols to hide one’s information from unauthorized parties.

Accessing encrypted data

To access encrypted data, a party needs an alphanumeric key of some sort. One example is the 4-digit pin that one needs to get past the lock screen on a mobile phone. If a user doesn’t enter the proper key, he or she can’t get to any of the operations or personal information stored on the phone.

It’s not just stored information, though — transmitted data may also be encrypted. For instance, an app with end-to-end encryption cannot be spied on by interlopers of any kind, whether they be law enforcement officials or black hats. The data it transmits is only accessible to the sender and intended recipients.

As we’ve seen, then, encryption scrambles the data, and a particular code is needed to unscramble it. The number of bits listed next to a code tell users how many different combinations are needed to unscramble it. For instance, a bank of supercomputers using brute force would require billions of years to crack a 256-bit encryption code.

Unencrypted data can easily be lifted off any kind of storage device, regardless of what other protections are used. The disk in an unencrypted hard drive could simply be removed and plugged into another computer, for example. With encryption in place, it becomes nearly impossible for third parties to access the data.

Security experts recommend that users make a habit out of encrypting their data and devices, since otherwise particularly sensitive data might draw attention to itself. After all, it is surprising what the average digital device has on it, be it contacts, emails, browsing histories, saved logins, or what have you.

Encrypting your data

On many devices, encryption doesn’t require any extra work, as it is increasingly becoming the industry standard. For instance, iOS has been encrypting data for a long time, and on the macOS it is becoming the default setting. You can check your Mac’s encryption status by going into System Preferences > Security & Privacy > FileVault, then following the Apple company’s instructions.

Android devices took a little longer to join the encryption party, but now newer devices that run Android 6.0 Marshmallow or higher are encrypted. Previous versions of Android can be encrypted by going into Settings > Security.

And then there’s Windows. Some Windows PCs come with what’s called Device Encryption enabled, though it still has to be activated by the user. To see if yours does, go into Settings > System > About, scroll down to the bottom, and see if there’s a Device Encryption section. If you don’t see it, you can pay $100 for BitLocker (if you upgrade to Windows 10 pro), or you can use an open-source alternative such as VeraCrypt.

Most messenger apps are encrypted by default, but Telegram stores messages on an unencrypted server, which is a major security risk. Https sites, including those of Facebook, Gmail, and Amazon automatically add encryption. Likewise, the simple act of adding a password to your home or office WiFi encrypts it, and a VPN can help you securely access public WiFi.

Drawbacks

There are a few drawbacks when it comes to device encryption. First and foremost, there is a possibility of losing your data. It’s roughly the digital equivalent of being locked out of your house or your car. If a user who actually is authorized forgets his own password, he could find it as difficult to access his own data as criminals or government spooks. This possibility creates an incentive for users to choose or store their passwords unsafely.

Passwords are, in fact, the major weak link in encryption. While the encryption itself is unbreakable with any existing technology, user-generated passwords are typically short and easy to remember.

Passwords tend to contain recognizable human words, leaving them vulnerable to a so-called “dictionary attack” — essentially a brute force attack using alphanumeric combinations that can do the job in a reasonable time frame. Users would be well advised to use best practices when choosing a password.

In addition, encryption may slow processing time a bit, though most modern operating systems are more than up to the challenge for ordinary purposes.

Encrypted Data Recovery Services

Secure Data Recovery engineers have ample experience working on encrypted devices. Common data loss scenarios for encrypted devices include:

  • Physical Hard Drive or RAID damage
  • Accidental Formatting or File Deletion
  • Corruption Due to Encryption Software

We regularly work with hardware and software encryption, disk encryption, and filesystem-level encryption. Some of these levels include Trusted Platform Module, BitLocker and more. Our dedicated R&D Team has created proprietary utilities for self-encrypting hard drive data recovery cases. Secure Data Recovery also has proprietary software to recover data from deleted encrypted partitions. We are well-equipped to help users with all their data recovery needs on their encrypted devices. Call us at 1-800-388-1266 to learn more.

NOTE: If you need our engineers to decrypt your information, we will need the encryption key, username, and password on the device.

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