How to Encrypt your PC with BitLocker

Encryption takes the data on a disk and encodes it, making it accessible only to those with the decryption key. On a Windows PC, BitLocker is used to encrypt the drive.

While encryption can be a tricky topic to understand, it’s really pretty simple; it describes any process that takes data and encodes it in a way that renders it inaccessible to third parties unless they acquire the password to decrypt it. In its encrypted form, data is referred to as “ciphertext”, and in its normal form, “plaintext”. But who really needs to go to the effort of encypting their data, and why? If you’re a business, then certainly – encryption should be a priority in your IT strategy. Despite password protections on user accounts on PCs and Macs, this is really just superficial, and data recovery from a hard disk drive or solid-state drive is easy. OS passwords don’t encrypt your data, they just stop people accessing it through normal means i.e. logging in. If you truly want your data to be protected, it needs to be encrypted. If you’re a home user, you should consider encrypting your drive, especially if you’re storing sensitive data. Nowadays, encrypting a hard drive on a PC is easy and intuitive, so there’s no reason not to.

Encryption on Windows PCs depends on your operating system – Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate Editions, and Windows 8 and Windows 10 Enterprise and Pro Editions include BitLocker as standard. To enable encryption via BitLocker on a Windows PC, open Control Panel, then navigate to ‘System and Security’, and click on ‘BitLocker Drive Encryption’ and then ‘Turn on BitLocker’. BitLocker will then ask you if you want to unlock your drive via a password, or by inserting a USB flash drive upon startup. If you choose the password option, you can save it to your Microsoft account in the cloud, or on a USB flash drive. Select one of these options, and click ‘Next’. You will then be presented with the choice of encrypting “used disk space” or “entire drive”. You should select the former when setting up encryption on a new machine, and the latter on a PC that has been in use for some time. You will then be asked to choose between “new encryption mode”, which you should check if you’re keeping your HDD or SSD in the same machine, or “compatible mode”, which you should select if you’re moving your drive between machines. When you’ve chosen one of these, click ‘Run Bitlocker System Check’, then ‘Continue’. Upon restarting your PC, the encryption process will be complete. When you startup, you’ll be asked to enter your encryption key, so keep it safe!

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