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Encrypting a backup is important for the security of your data, especially if you travel or live in a high crime area.

Hello Leo. Two things that are really bad where I live is house breaking and identity theft so laptops have become a prize. I also travel quite a bit. How do I encrypt an OS system backup on an external hard drive? At the moment, I use Easeus to backup and then encrypt with DiskCryptor. When I need to recover, I decrypt first on another machine. I'm thinking there must be an easier way. Thanks for your time.

In this excerpt from Answercast #35, I look at two ways to encrypt a backup; either using settings in your backup program or stand-alone encryption software.

Encrypting a backup

It really depends on the backup software that you're using.

  • My recommendation, particularly for someone who's traveling like this, is that you use the encryption provided by the backup software that you're using.

Now, I don't know specifically the backup software you're using. I know that Windows' own backup actually doesn't do this, but programs like Acronis and Macrium both do.

When you configure the backup operation, there's a checkbox that says Encrypt and an opportunity to provide a password or passphrase. That then causes the actual files containing your backup to be encrypted wherever you put it: on the hard disk or elsewhere.

Whole drive encryption

The other approach, that I actually have been using myself when I've been traveling, is my external hard drive uses whole drive encryption.

What that means is that it needs to be mounted in TrueCrypt before you can even see the contents.

Once having done so, you can then instruct the backup program to write the backup to the encrypted hard drive. Once it's dismounted, then the contents are completely encrypted. You are unable to see them until you once again mount it.


The downside for this particular technique is that if you end up having to restore your laptop, it is unlikely that the restoration disc you might boot from has the ability to mount a TrueCrypt encrypted drive.

Typically, you then involve another machine to decrypt, or grab, the decrypted data and then do the restoration that way. But, it is definitely one way to keep the data on your machine, or on your external drive, fully encrypted.

So those are two techniques:

  • Use the encryption provided by your backup software,

  • Or try and use something like whole drive encryption, from a software package like TrueCrypt, that can do that.

Article C5591 - July 16, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

July 18, 2012 10:12 PM

There is another option, perhaps the best one. Use an external hard drive that has its own built-in full disk encryption. These drives have buttons on them and you enter the password using these buttons. No software is needed on any computer to read/write the files, AFTER, the drive has had the correct password entered.

July 21, 2012 3:57 PM

Can I encrypt a backup in retrospect using Macrium? I backed up but encrypted neither the image nor the incrementals.

I have hesitated because I'd just hate to encrypt and find I can't get it back.

You wouldn't be able to retroactively add Macrium's own encryption to an existing unencrypted backup. You could encrypt the file using an additional tool, though, like perhaps AxCrypt or 7-zip.

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