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Disk encryption: This is why you should always use it

Disk encryption is one of those physical security features that determine whether I install a Linux distribution on any computer I use for serious computing. Whether it’s a server, notebook, ultrabook or any other type of *book, if it’s not a crash-and-burn unit, the hard disk drive (HDD) has to be encrypted.

And no, it’s not because I have anything to hide, it’s just that personal data should be just that – personal, and private. If you are not authorized (by the owner) to see it, you don’t.

This becomes especially important in this age of warrantless orders, sational national security letters, and judicial overreach, where a bunch of trigger-happy guys from any government agency can show up at your place and cart everything and anything they can get their paws on.

Take the case of Kim Dotcom, who leaves lives in New Zealand. Back in January 2012, based on charges of copyright infringement related to the Megaupload file-sharing website, the New Zealand police raided his residence and bagged everything they could find. Cloned copies of his HDDs were sent to the FBI in the US of A.

Now, Kim Dotcom is not without blemishes in his character; the guy has a criminal history that dates back to his teenage years. But that’s not the point of discussion here. The gist of this article is what we can learn from the legal aspect of the case against him.

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Since the raid of his residence and seizure of his assets, the raid has been deemed, by the courts, to be illegal and the warrant detailing what could be seized too broad. Virtually every single court case has come out in his favor.

In the latest decision, the judge overseeing the case ruled that all digital material taken from his residence that are not relevant to the case should be returned (to Kim). And that any copies of HDDs sent to the FBI be returned.

Too late!

Do you think the US government is going to comply with the decision of a New Zealand judge? Fat chance. Even if they did, don’t you think they’ve already made copies of the copies, and copies of the copies of the copies. And if those HDDs were not encrypted, what good will returning them at this point do.

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Again, it’s too late. Lesson? Always encrypt your HDDs. It’s not about who is a good or bad guy, or who has something or nothing to hide. It’s about having the final say on who can have access to your personal data. In cases of this sort, it’s better to be in a position where the authorities are going to court to get you to give up your encryption passphrase(s).

Regarding full disk encryption in the graphical installation programs of Linux and BSD distributions, Anaconda, the Fedora systems installer, the Debian Installer, and PC-BSD‘s installer are the best. Note that the graphical installer of Sabayon is a fork of an older version of Anaconda, but it, too, has support for full disk encryption.

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