Computer Components

Is it Worth Encrypting an SSD?

Benefits of SSD Encryption

Data protection: Proper encryption (yeah, looking at you BitLocker) adds a fantastic layer of security to your data making it nearly impossible for bad actors (no, not the nerds at your local theater) to access your information if your device is lost or stolen.

Compliance: If you own a business or you’re an individual who is handling sensitive data, encryption is almost always required to comply with European and American regulations like GDPR and HIPAA.

Peace of mind: Knowing your data is secure will give you significant peace of mind especially if you travel frequently or you work in public spaces. Turn off your laptop before you go to the bathroom and boom, if someone steals it and runs out of your favorite Starbucks with it they’ll have a hard time finding the encryption key so their only option is erasing everything in order to use the laptop. While they might’ve gotten away with your precious hardware they haven’t also gotten a hold of your virtual life and more importantly, your bank accounts.

Potential Problems

Performance impact: While modern SSDs and CPUs have narrowed the performance hit, encryption will still slightly reduce read/write speeds.

Risk of data loss: If you forget your encryption key, you will most likely lose access to your data permanently or until someone finds a vulnerability in the outdated encryption algorithm that you used and cracks it after many many years from now.

Complexity: Setting up and managing encrypted drives is more complex than using unencrypted ones.

Is It Worth It?

For most users, the benefits of SSD encryption outweigh the drawbacks. If you store pretty much any type of personally identifiable or business data on your device encryption is very much needed. The only options I can think of where encryption might not be super important are if your SSD only contains easily replaceable data and non personally identifiable information or your SSD never leaves a location you already know is ultra secure.

Pros and Cons SSD Encryption Chart

How SSD Encryption Works

Encryption scrambles data using a complex algorithm and a unique key. When properly implemented, this makes the data unreadable without the correct key. For SSDs, this process happens *on-the-fly* as data is written to or read from the drive.

Types of Encryption

Hardware encryption: Built into the SSD controller, it offers better performance but it is definitely vulnerable to certain types of attacks like side channel and evil maid attacks.

Software encryption: More flexible and often more secure but will have a slightly higher performance impact.

Impact on SSD Lifespan

Modern encryption has a tiny impact on SSD lifespan. The wear caused by encryption is negligible compared to the normal read/write operations that your SSD is doing every minute.

Best Practices

1. Use strong and highly unique passwords or passphrases. Don’t encrypt your SSD with the name of your cat or the college you’ve been to. Any hacker or governmental entity can easily get a hold of that information rendering your encryption useless.

2. Enable full disk encryption instead of just encrypting certain files.

3. Keep encryption keys and recovery information in a secure and separate location. The best and most secure place is in your head. If you can remember a 16+ string of characters made of numbers and letters that will be your best place to hide your encryption password.

4. Always update your encryption software. Always. Outdated encryption algorithms with known vulnerabilities are one of the main ways people trying to hack into your SSD use. It’s not brute forcing the password as many people seem to think.

Recovery options

Most encryption algorithms come with recovery keys or other methods. Some of these are:

  • Recovery phrases
  • Key escrow services
  • Backup keys stored on separate devices

Popular Encryption Tools

  • BitLocker (Windows)
  • FileVault (macOS)
  • VeraCrypt (cross-platform and the one I recommend the most)
  • LUKS (Linux)

Legal Stuff

In some countries, including the US you are sometimes legally required to decrypt your drive for law enforcement. But I guess you could technically claim you forgot the encryption key? *wink* *wink*. I’m not a legal professional though so this is not legal advice or even an encouragement for you to ever do this.

Some countries have outright bans on encryption strength or usage altogether. Ignore them at your own risk.

Performance Impact

Modern CPUs with AES-NI instructions have minimized the performance impact of encryption. You likely won’t notice a significant difference in your day to day use.

Encryption and Data Recovery

Encryption can make data recovery more challenging if your drive fails. Always maintain backups of important data.

Self-Encrypting Drives (SEDs)

Some SSDs come with already enabled encryption capabilities, which can offer a good balance of security and performance.

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