Hard disk encryption is a process where the data on the disk is converted into unreadable code using mathematical algorithms so that it cannot be accessed by unauthorized users.
Encryption can be carried out by software or hardware mechanisms.
Therefore, the user must provide a password, fingerprint or smart card to access an encrypted drive.
In this post, you will learn more about disk encryption, as well as the differences between software and hardware encryption.
You will also discover how to tell if your hard disk is encrypted, what the advantages of an encrypted disk are, how to decrypt and recover data from encrypted hard disks.
What is hard disk encryption?
Hard disk encryption is a technology that encrypts the data stored on a hard disk using sophisticated mathematical functions.
The data on an encrypted hard disk cannot be read by anyone. To access it, the user must have access to the appropriate key or password.
This helps to prevent unauthorized access to data, as well as providing a layer of security against hackers and other online threats.
The concept of hard disk encryption is quite simple. When a file is written to the drive, it is automatically encrypted by specialized software.
Although it sounds similar to hardware based encryption, it doesn’t rely on the use of any hardware to encrypt the hard disk.
When a file is read from the drive, the software automatically decrypts it, leaving all other data on the drive encrypted.
The encryption and decryption processes are transparent to all common applications, such as word processors, databases, spreadsheets and so on.
A computer equipped with hard disk encryption appears, from the user’s point of view, to work like any other computer.
Can hardware encryption be compared to software encryption?
Both hardware and software encryption have their pros and cons. Find out more about each below:
Software encryption usually depends on a password.
The principle is: give the correct password and your files will be decrypted, otherwise they will remain locked.
With encryption enabled, it goes through a special algorithm that scrambles your data as it is written to disk.
The same software then decrypts the data as it is read from the disk by an authenticated user.
The main difference with software encryption is that it is generally quite cheap to implement.
In addition, encryption routines based on software do not require any additional hardware.
On the other hand, software encryption is just as secure as the rest of your computer or smartphone.
This means that if a hacker manages to discover your password, the encryption will be broken immediately.
Software encryption tools also share your computer’s processing resources.
This can cause the entire PC to slow down as data is encrypted/decrypted.
Finally, opening and closing encrypted files is much slower than normal because the process is relatively resource-intensive, especially for higher levels of software encryption.
At the heart of hardware encryption is a separate processor dedicated to authentication and encryption.
It is increasingly common in mobile devices, such as facial recognition in Apple iPhones, for example.
This technology still relies on a special key to encrypt and decrypt the data, but it is randomly generated by the encryption processor.
Hardware encryption devices often replace traditional passwords with biometric logons (such as fingerprints) or a PIN number entered on a connected keypad.
One of the benefits of hardware encryption is that it is more secure than software encryption because its process is separate from the rest of the device.
This makes it much more difficult to intercept or break.
Using a dedicated processor also lightens the load on the rest of your device, making the encryption and decryption process much faster.
On the other hand, encrypted storage based on hardware is usually much more expensive than a software tool.
For example, BitLocker is included free of charge in all new versions of Windows, but an encrypted USB flash drive is quite expensive – especially when compared to an unencrypted alternative.
Furthermore, if the hardware decryption processor fails, it is extremely difficult to regain access to your information.
How do I know if my hard disk is encrypted?
As a best practice for protecting the data on your PC, you should encrypt the information to protect it from unauthorized access.
To discover if your disk encryption is enabled in Windows, follow the steps below:
- Click on the “Start” menu in the bottom left-hand corner of the Windows start screen;
- Then click on the cog icon representing “Settings” and select “Update and security”;
- In the left-hand column, click on “Device encryption”;
- If you see the message “Device encryption is enabled” with the option “Turn off”, your hard disk IS encrypted;
- If encryption is NOT enabled, click on “Enable” to encrypt your device and follow the instructions.
As for Mac PCs, you should take the following steps to check if your hard disk is encrypted:
- Click on “System Preferences” and then on the “Security and Privacy” icon;
- If the message “FileVault is enabled for the ‘Macintosh HD’ disk” appears with the option “Disable FileVault”, this means that your disk IS encrypted;
- If the message “The file is disabled…” appears, this means that your disk is NOT encrypted. Click on “Activate FileVault” to encrypt your disk and follow the on-screen instructions.
Encrypted hard disks provide:
Check out all the differences that encrypted hard disks offer users:
The encryption hardware, integrated into the drive controller, allows the disk to operate at full data rate without performance degradation.
Strong security based on hardware
Encryption is always active and the encryption keys never leave the hard disk.
In addition, user authentication is performed by the drive before unlocking, regardless of the operating system.
Ease of use
Encryption is transparent to the user, without having to enable it.
Encrypted hard disks are easily erased using the on-board encryption key, eliminating the need to encrypt data on the drive.
Lower cost of ownership
There is no need for the new infrastructure to manage encryption keys, as encryption takes advantage of your existing infrastructure to store recovery information.
Your device operates more efficiently because processor cycles don’t need to be used for the encryption process.
How to decrypt an encrypted hard disk
There are three basic alternatives for decrypting an encrypted hard disk: via the control panel (for Windows operating systems) or using Diskpart and Terminal (for Mac systems).
Solution 1: decrypt the drive via the control panel (Windows)
This is the easiest way to recover data from an encrypted hard disk in Windows.
Simply log in to your system administrator account and go to Control Panel > System and Security.
From here, you can select the “BitLocker Drive Encryption” option.
This will allow you to view the encrypted drive with all the other options associated with it.
Now, you can simply select the drive you want to decrypt and click on the “Disable BitLocker” option.
This will generate a pop-up, where you should confirm your choice by clicking on the “Decrypt drive” button and wait while Windows recovers the data from the encrypted hard disk.
Solution 2: With Diskpart (Windows)
To decrypt an encrypted hard disk using Diskpart, follow the steps below:
- Type “Diskpart” into the Windows search bar and run the program;
- Type “list disk” (you should be able to identify the encrypted hard disk by its size, make a note of the number listed);
- Then select “disk” x (where x is the number from the previous step);
- Then type “clean” and then “create partition primary”;
- Select “partition 1”, then “active” and then “format fs=ntfs quick /override”;
- Once the process is complete, select “exit”.
Decrypt encrypted hard disk on Mac
To decrypt the encrypted hard disk on your Mac, follow the steps below:
- Open the Terminal and paste: “sudo chflags 0 /Volumes/*”;
- Press “Return” and type in your administrator password;
- Then press “Return” and type: “sudo chmod a+rx /Volumes/*”;
- Press “Return” and type: “killall Finder”;
- Press “Return”.
When all these steps have been completed, you can decrypt your Mac’s hard disk. If you have forgotten your password, follow the next steps to erase and decrypt your Mac’s hard disk:
- Start the Terminal and type: “diskutil cs and high return”;
- The Terminal will produce a result made up of codes in a hierarchy. In the code, copy the alphanumeric code next to “Logical Volume Group”;
- Then type: “diskutil cs delete XXXX____YYYY___ZZZZ___XYZ” and press “Enter”.
How to recover data from an encrypted hard disk
In some cases, the data on a hard disk is maliciously encrypted – as in a ransomware attack – preventing access.
Learn how data recovery companies act on these occasions, and what to do in the event of a ransomware attack.
Recover data from an encrypted hard disk with a data recovery company
When you use a data recovery company to recover data from an encrypted hard disk, the procedure is extremely meticulous.
First, the technicians analyze the situation, trying to determine the safest and most economical alternative for recovering the encrypted data.
To do this, a specific study of the type of ransomware is carried out, looking for security loopholes and recovery possibilities.
This way, it is possible to know if the process can be reversed to decrypt the data. If it can’t be reversed, a team of experts carries out a deep analysis of the file structure.
The aim is to find out if any traces were left during the attack, trying to reconstruct as many files as possible.
Then, all viable procedures will be carried out in order to increase the chances of recovering the encrypted files in the most efficient and secure way possible.
Decrypt a hard disk encrypted by a ransomware virus
Basically, ransomware is malware that uses encryption to hold the victim’s information to ransom.
In the attack, a user’s or organization’s critical data is encrypted so that they cannot access files, databases or applications. A ransom is then demanded to provide access.
Ransomware is usually designed to spread across a network and target databases and file servers, thus quickly paralyzing an entire organization.
If you believe you have been the victim of a ransomware attack and want to recover the files encrypted by the virus, the ideal thing is to contact a specialized professional service immediately.
After all, carrying out incorrect procedures can make data recovery difficult.
As this is an extremely technical procedure, it requires a detailed analysis of the case, which should be carried out by specialists with extensive experience in recovering encrypted files.
After analyzing the infection due to a ransomware attack, the encryption should be removed using decryption software – or by applying professional file editing processes.
There are different tools for different types of ransomware. That’s why it is important to have the support of professionals who know how to identify them and adopt the right platform to deal with the problem.
Encrypted hard drives use a technology that employs sophisticated mathematical functions to convert data stored on a hard drive into a format unrecognizable to unauthorized persons.
So, without an appropriate key or password, the data cannot be read.
Encrypted hard disks generally have better performance, strong security, ease of use and lower cost of ownership.
Hard disk encryption offers protection against hackers and other online threats and comes in two types: software and hardware.
Separately, the two types of encryption present vulnerabilities, but together they are highly effective in guaranteeing the security of your data.
If you need to decrypt your disk, you can use the control panel and Diskpart (on Windows) or Terminal (on Mac).
In some cases, the data on your hard disk can be maliciously encrypted so that you can’t access it – as is the case with Ransomware attacks.
If you believe you have been the victim of such an attack, it is vital that you seek out a professional data recovery service – such as the one provided by Bot – as soon as possible.
After all, some ransomware attacks can delete files after some time. In this sense, the rapid reaction of Bot is crucial.
Furthermore, our team works 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, ensuring that you have all the support you need to solve this problem.
Not to mention that, at Bot, 99% of customers are satisfied with the result, and we have an average rating of 4.9/5.0 on our social networks.
Our success rate in the cases we handle is also high (95%), proving the quality of the services we provide.
Become one of our more than 100,000 success stories: start your recovery with us now!