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How to Use TrueCrypt Encryption Software

Update: May 2014

The Truecrypt project ceased suddenly in May 2014. The original website no longer hosts the software, which can now be found at http://truecrypt.ch. Links in the article below have been updated. For more about the state of the project, see https://www.grc.com/misc/truecrypt/truecrypt.htm.

Your Computer Is Not Secure

The data you store on your computer is not as secure as you think it is. You may have protected your computer with a log–in screen and a password, but this will deter only casual snoopers. Serious criminals, or anyone with a reasonable level of technical knowledge, can easily get around a log–in password, especially on a Windows computer.

The Need for Encryption

Everyone has something on their computer that they would prefer to keep secret:

  • A list of secure passwords that need to be written down because they are too complex to remember.
  • Personal financial details.
  • Confidential business information.

You can make sure it remains secret by storing it inside an encrypted area on your computer’s hard drive or other device such as a memory stick. Of course, every important item of information should be stored on at least two separate devices.

Pros and Cons of Truecrypt

There are plenty of programs around that will allow you to create a securely encrypted area on a disc, but TrueCrypt has the benefit of being both particularly good and completely free of charge.

TrueCrypt home page

TrueCrypt is very straightforward to use, once you know how to use it. Like much software, it was created by programmers who know their stuff but who lack the ability to look at things from the point of view of the user.

The instructions on the TrueCrypt website are not as clear as they might be, mainly because of their strange choice of words. The program uses the words ‘Mount’ and ‘Volume’ in ways that will be baffling for most non–specialists. Nor is the Truecrypt software window very user–friendly.

The instructions you are reading are an attempt to make the process easier to understand by using standard English.

The process is the same for Windows, Mac and GNU/Linux. The illustrations here are from Windows Vista.

Getting Started

Go to TrueCrypt. Download and install the latest version of the software. Truecrypt is straightforward to install.

How to Create an Encrypted Area, known as a ‘Volume’, on a Hard Drive or External Device

Once the TrueCrypt software is installed, open it in the same way that you open any other software. You will see the TrueCrypt introductory screen:

TrueCrypt introductory screen

In TrueCrypt terminology, an encrypted area is called a ‘volume’. So click ‘Create Volume’.

You will see the ‘TrueCrypt Volume Creation Wizard’ screen:

TrueCrypt Volume Creation Wizard screen

This gives you the option of encrypting different types of areas:

  • a portion of a drive,
  • an entire drive,
  • or a partition within a drive.

The option ‘Create a file container’ should already be selected. This is the basic option: it allows you to encrypt a portion of your computer’s hard drive or a portion of a device such as a USB memory stick or a recordable DVD. Don’t run before you can walk; stay with the default setting for now. Click ‘Next’.

1: Select the Type of Encrypted Area

You will see the ‘Volume Type’ screen:

TrueCrypt Volume Type screen

This gives you the option of creating either a normal encrypted area or one that is enclosed within another encrypted area. The option ‘Standard TrueCrypt volume’ should already be selected. The default option is perfectly fine for most purposes. Unless you are involved in high–level international espionage, click ‘Next’.

2: Choose a Location and Name

You will see the ‘Volume Location’ screen:

TrueCrypt Volume Location screen

You now need to choose a location and a name for the encrypted area. Click ‘Select File’.

Your computer’s normal file selection screen should appear on top of the TrueCrypt ‘Volume Location’ screen (this is the Windows Vista version):

Windows Vista file selection screen
  1. Select a location for the new encrypted area on your computer’s hard drive or on an external device.
  2. Choose a name for the encrypted area. Do not choose the name of an existing file; if you do, that file will be overwritten and its original contents will be deleted.
  3. Click ‘Save’ (or whatever term your operating system uses).
  4. The name and location of the encrypted area, which does not yet exist, will appear in the box on the ‘Volume Location’ screen. If you are happy with these settings, click ‘Next’.

3: Select a Type of Encryption

You will see the ‘Encryption Options’ screen:

TrueCrypt Encryption Options screen

Again, the default settings are perfectly OK for normal use. Unless you are an expert in cryptography, just click ‘Next’.

4: Choose a Size

You will see the ‘Volume Size’ screen:

TrueCrypt Volume Size screen
  1. Choose a suitable size for the encrypted area. It can be as large or as small as you like, but bear in mind that you won’t be able to change the size once the encrypted area has been created.
  2. Click ‘Next’.

5: Choose a Password

You will now see the ‘Volume Password’ screen:

TrueCrypt Volume Password screen
  1. Read the information on the screen about choosing a suitably complex password. You may want to tick the ‘Display password’ box so that you can see what you are typing. TrueCrypt helpfully prevents the ‘Next’ button from working until you have correctly typed your password twice.
  2. When you and the software are both happy with your password, click ‘Next’.

6: Encrypt the Chosen Area

You will see the ‘Volume Format’ screen:

TrueCrypt Volume Format screen
  1. There is no need to change the ‘Filesystem’ or ‘Cluster’ default settings.
  2. Do exactly what the instructions on the screen tell you: move your mouse over the window, randomly and for at least half a minute.
  3. Click ‘Format’.

Truecrypt will now encrypt the area you specified. This may take a minute or two. When the process is finished, you will be asked whether you want to create another ‘volume’.

Getting Access to an Encrypted Area, Known as a ‘Volume’, on a Hard Drive or External Device

Once you have created an encrypted area, you will need to get access to it so that you can store your collection of porn confidential business information secure from prying eyes.

You can only get access to the encrypted area by using the TrueCrypt software, so open the program in the usual way. You will see the standard TrueCrypt introductory screen:

TrueCrypt introductory screen

1: Choose a Letter

On this screen you will see a list of letters of the alphabet. Select one of these letters by clicking it once. It doesn’t matter which one (in this example, it’s ‘J’).

Technical note: these letters refer to non–existent virtual drives. TrueCrypt must use one of these virtual drives each time you open one of your encrypted areas; i.e. each time you ‘mount’ a ‘volume’, in TrueCrypt terminology.

2: Select an Encrypted Area

Now you need to find and select the encrypted area that you want to open.

  1. Click ‘Select File…’.
  2. Your computer’s normal file selection screen will appear. Use it to go to your hard drive or external device, and select the encrypted area.
  3. Click ‘Open’ (or whatever term your operating system uses).

You will see the TrueCrypt introductory screen showing the location of the encrypted area to the left of the ‘Select File’ button:

TrueCrypt introductory screen with a volume highlighted

3: Find the Password Screen

To get access to this encrypted area, you need to enter the appropriate password.

You will notice that there is no mention on the TrueCrypt screen that a password is required. This may be a security feature, or it may just be poor design.

To be able to enter a password, you first need to display the screen in which you can enter a password, and to do this you need to click the button labelled, for some reason, ‘Mount’.

TrueCrypt File Password screen

4: Enter the Password

  1. Enter the password and click ‘OK’.
  2. Depending on your computer’s operating system, you may also be asked to enter the computer’s password.

5: Use the Encrypted Area

The TrueCrypt introductory screen will now show the location of the encrypted area next to the drive letter:

TrueCrypt introductory screen with a virtual drive highlighted

To get access to the encrypted area, simply double–click it. You can also use your computer’s normal file navigation mechanism.

Further Information

  • The drive containing the encrypted area is a virtual drive. It does not physically exist, but it behaves as though it exists, and you will see a reference to it in your computer’s navigation system:
    Windows Vista file selection screen with a TrueCrypt virtual drive highlighted
  • You can have any number of encrypted areas open at any one time.
  • To return the encrypted area to its password–protected state, go to the TrueCrypt screen, highlight the virtual drive, and click ‘Dismount’.
  • TrueCrypt allows you to create hidden ‘volumes’, encrypt entire drives, and more..

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