laptop security

Windows XP Encryption Software

Windows XP encryption software is more correctly known as Encrypting File System or EFS.

EFS is only available with XP Professional.

EFS is a file or folder based encryption system. It has some strengths and weaknesses that users need to be aware of.

  • EFS files cannot be shared. If transmitted over a network files are automatically decrypted.
  • EFS works only on NTFS formatted disks. Copy an EFS encrypted file to a FAT disk and it will automatically decrypt.
  • EFS files can be deleted by anyone with permission to delete files or folders.
  • Dragging a file into an EFS folder will not encrypt it. It must be cut and paste into the folder.
  • Because EFS is file and folder based, any folder where XP or applications may put data needs to be encrypted as well i.e. temporary folders: %TEMP% and %TMP%.
  • EFS encryption and compression are mutually exclusive options. If a file is encrypted it cannot be compressed.

That EFS cannot encrypt whole volumes is its greatest weakness. It's biggest strength is that it's cheap and useful for an individual who has a need to encrypt a few files or folders. It's also a great deal more secure than simply relying on passwords.

An alternative strategy for using Windows XP encryption software would be to enable EFS on the My Documents folder, subject to its contents not being compressed. By doing this the overhead of needing to cut and paste will be eliminated, but the operational limitations associated with sharing files remain.

Enabling EFS is very simple. Right click on a folder, select Properties, then General, then Advanced Attributes. A dialogue box will prompt as to whether all files and sub-folders are to be encrypted.

Windows XP has well documented security vulnerabilities and these were a major focus of attention in the development of Vista. In fact, Microsoft's primary focus in developing Vista was attending to those security vulnerabilities.

If you're also sticking with XP until there is a reason to move to Vista (in 3-4 years time), this will be of interest: XP Repair Pro.

Laptop encryption really isn't an option, its essential. Rather than using Windows XP encryption software consider options from companies specializing in encryption technology such as PGP.

Dedicated Microsoft devotees will of course go for Windows Vista BootLocker. They always enjoy a good challenge.

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Windows and other software programs store history about the different activities that you have performed on your computer and on the Internet. This information is stored in the system areas of your hard disk and the built-in Windows functions like 'Clear History' offer little protection as they can only partially delete this data. Anyone can take a look at your history and find out what you have been doing on your computer, and this raises serious privacy concerns.

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