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Full Disk Encryption

Webopedia Staff
Last Updated April 17, 2024 5:05 am

Full disk encryption translates data into a code, shielding it from anyone who doesn’t have the corresponding key to decode it. Full disk encryption allows users to secure all the data stored on a device. It encrypts the whole hard drive as well as the data that needs to be protected. When the user turns on their computer’s operating system, they’ll enter one or more factors of authentication before their data can be decrypted.

Today, most data storage systems use a more secure form of encryption called asymmetric cryptography. This is also known as public-key cryptography, because data can be encrypted using a public key but requires a private one to be decrypted. Asymmetric cryptography makes it much more difficult for anyone but the authorized person to decrypt the data because it uses advanced mathematical keys for the decryption.

Disk vs. File Encryption

One advantage of disk encryption is the longevity of the process: a hard disk or solid-state drive will hold data securely while the computer is turned off or if it shuts down unexpectedly. Main memory or RAM, on the other hand, will only hold data that’s actively in use on the operating system or device. Although it’s slower, a disk drive will store data after the operating system or device shuts down or loses power. Full disk encryption won’t keep transferred or sent data encrypted if you email data, send it over a network, or transfer it to a new storage device, but if you pair it with file-level encryption (FLE), you can manually encrypt any data that you need to send.

File encryption requires more time and effort because it doesn’t cover an entire hard drive automatically. But it’s helpful because it allows users to specifically choose which files to encrypt and then send those files to others, thus protecting the data during transit. Before the user stores their data, file level encryption also may require them to complete further tasks.