Can Free OTFE take on the big guys in encryption software? Read on to find out.
Introduction to Free OTFE
From their website, "FreeOTFE is a free, open source, "on-the-fly" transparent disk encryption program for PCs and PDAs." But is it really? Free OTFE allows you to encrypt files or partitions on your hard drive, then mount them like normal drives. And this is all in a free tool.
I am reviewing Free OTFE version 4.71 on Windows XP SP3.
The installation of Free OTFE on Windows XP consisted of three screens and then it installed. Quick, simple, and painless are the best descriptions that I can give for it. Within about 2 minutes, I was up and running with a copy of Free OTFE and their documentation (in Internet Explorer) sitting in front of me. I wish all programs could be this easy to install.
Creating the Encryption File
When you choose to create a file or partition, you're presented with the File Creation Wizard. You're prompted with the options of creating a file or partition, then the location where you want the file to be stored and the size of the file. Next, you're given the options of the type of encryption that you wish to use. The defaults are good enough for most users, although I chose the strongest Blowfish algorithm. After choosing your encryption types, you are presented with how to generate the random numbers. The Microsoft CryptoAPI is checked by default and you have the option of the mouse movement. If you choose the mouse movement option, the next screen is where you'll move your mouse around in the white box. FInally, you're prompted for a password and can verify the settings or create the file.
If you don't have a separate partition on your hard drive, I highly recommend creating a volume file.
Overall the wizard is fairly straightforward. The only reason that I gave it a lower rating on is the mouse movement generator. I had to spend about 5 minutes moving the cursor inside of the box, while it generated 4,096 random bits. Most other programs which I've used only required a minute or so.
Operation of Free OTFE
I've created two partitions and mounted both of them inside of Windows XP. When they're mounted, Windows Explorer shows them as drives. I'm able to do everything that I would normally be able to do with a drive. Then, when I dismount them, they disappear from Windows Explorer. If you click on the file, it either prompts you for an associated program, or prompts you for a password.
One potential problem when it prompts you for a password is that hitting your Enter key moves the cursor down to a new line. When you are creating the password, there is a warning about this (and the fact that the newline becomes part of the password), however there isn't a warning on the prompt screen. This is something that you and your employees have to remember.
With the ability to encrypt PDA's and computers and synchronize flawlessly between them both, Free OTFE definitely has the advantage over TrueCrypt and other alternatives for data encryption. The usability of the program and the ease in installing it is a plus. As they mention though, if you forget your password, you can forget your data. That attests to the strength in the encryption.
You can find FreeOTFE at http://www.freeotfe.org/download.html and I will definitely be using it on my laptop and other computers.