Keeping your important files away from your main internal hard drive is vital for ensuring security, and for that you will need a reliable external hard drive. However, while doing this reduces the risk that viruses, worms, and hackers pose to your data, these external hard drives are not entirely immune to compromise.
If you’ve gone to the trouble of backing up a file, chances are it’s important to you and you don’t want it jeopardized. What you may be disturbed to discover is that external hard drives and USB flash drives have become some of the most common sources of data leaks.
If you lose a flash drive, external hard drive, or laptop containing sensitive personal information, your data is at risk, and with crimes like identity theft on the rise, protecting your personal information is more important than ever.
But don’t despair. There are several things you can do to protect your personal hard drive and keep it safe from prying eyes. By following these tips you can ensure total security for your sensitive information (just don’t forget your password!).
Encrypting Your Hard Drive
Encrypting your hard drive gives your files the protection they need. Encryption works by concealing your drive's data, making accessing the files almost impossible to someone who doesn’t know the encryption password.
Some external hard drives come ready equipped with encryption tools, but these tend to be slightly more expensive. If you have an external hard drive without this capability, an alternative option is to use a program such as TrueCrypt, a free, open-source tool that will encrypt your hard drive, and it works with any operating system.
Some of the more expensive external hard drives utilize biometric authentication technology (a fingerprint reader) to safeguard your data. This is useful for especially sensitive documents and certainly worth the extra money to ensure peace of mind.
For most users, the free software approach is adequate, but not as convenient as auto-encrypt and fingerprint protected hard drives.
Secure Data Disposal
Once you no longer need an external hard drive (say you’ve upgraded, for example) it’s vital that the data on it is rendered unreadable to prevent unauthorized access. You may not want it anymore, but there are plenty of people out there who are just dying to get hold of your sensitive information.
If you are under the impression that all you need to do is delete a file from an external hard drive, you’d be mistaken. In most cases, deleting a file simply removes the indexing information, while the data itself remains on the drive in unallocated space.
External hard drives can be cleaned by software that uses a wiping process that over-writes all the usable storage locations.
But remember, these products perform permanent deletes, so proceed with caution. Once these programs are used, your data will be lost forever.
Adria Saracino is an ex-designer who is obsessed with backing up files. You can find her updating not one, but three external hard drives weekly and storing them at different locations.