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Mac OS X: FileVault vs PGP Whole Disk Encryption

:: Wednesday, October 29th, 2008 @ 11:44:10 am

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I’ve been struggling with a solution to my encryption dilemma: how to I encrypt my sensitive data and still keep my machine usable for heavy media work?

I need some sort of encryption so data isn’t compromised if my computer is lost. I was initially pretty excited about PGP Whole Disk Encryption, but my benchmarks show some pretty depressing numbers. If I were an email-and-web sort of guy, it would probably be sufficient, but I do a lot of media work, and a drive that reads at just over 20MB/s is just too slow. This is too bad, because it looks like it is the only rock-solid way to do whole-disk encryption on the Mac. Truecrypt 5 just came out for Mac, but it only supports bootable whole-disk encryption on Windows.

Still, this article claims that there “no discernible difference” in real-world use between pre- and post-WDE, so I might give PGP WDE a try.

If it doesn’t work, I’m going to have to resort to using FileVault, which is build into Mac OS X (read Experiences with FileVault and How to use FileVault Safely for more). This way, I can keep my big media files and other files that require fast data transfer outside of the encrypted user folder. Also, the Mac OS X system files, applications, swap space, etc. don’t have to live inside the poor-performance area. If I enable the “Use secure virtual memory” option, it should make my data relatively safe. I know certain aspects of FileVault have been cracked, but it looks like it takes a lot of resources and know-how to pull that off.

This is all a compromise. I’d much rather have a hardware encryption solution, but information on those products is spotty. I know that Fujitsu offers 2.5″ drives with hardware encryption, and SSDs with hardware encryption are just starting to be announced, but it is hard to find information on whether they work with Macs.

I’m almost done making my second backup of the MacBook Pro. When that is done, I’ll be ready to give this all a try. What a pain in the ass.

UPDATE: It’s been around 14 hours, and FileVault is still “Deleting old Home folder…” (secure erase). I’m not sure how long I’m supposed to wait, but all online accounts state that aborting it does really bad things.

UPDATE: I did a hard-reset after about 16 hours, and my machine booted up just fine. There were some orphaned “old home folder” files in the User folder under, and I am using PathFinder’s secure erase feature to wipe them now. Now, to test performance…

| San Francisco, CA | link | trackback | Oct 29, 2008 11:44:10
  • http://deepdreams.com Rogier

    Perhaps you can use a memory stick formatted with the OSX file-vault encryption. Not only does it save you from creating a encrypted partition on your Mac. But you can also physically keep it save. Let alone you have the files separate from your laptop just in case something happens to that one…

    Just my 2 cents

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    If I were to use a flash stick, I would use PGP or Truecrypt. No reason to use FileVault unless it comes with the benefit of seamless integration with the Mac.

    I need to use the thing, not risk losing all my data because it lives on a tiny little USB stick!

    That is not a good idea.

  • http://www.tonywublog.com Tony

    Perfect timing. I was just struggling with this issue. Please post again when you arrive at a reasonable compromise you’re happy with.

  • http://echeng.com echeng

    Hey, Tony. I am pretty sure the PGP approach isn’t going to work for me. I mean, I copy CF cards over to my hard disk using a reader that hits 40MB/s during transfer. If my encrypted drive can’t even handle that, what are the chances that it will perform well once I fire up Aperture or Photoshop?

    I’m going to try PGP first to see what happens, but I’m not hopeful.

  • http://www.dealsbell.com/store/carbonite carbonite offer code

    There are some advantages of the PGP whole Disk encryption over FileVault. You will get some extra tools. You would not have to worry about the data which are the outside of the home folder. You can use the computer while the encrypting. You don’t have to wait for the shutdown of the filevault. 

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