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Windows Vista BitLocker Drive Encryption - Getting Started

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Bill Fulks•updated: 8/13/2009

Encryption is a security measure you can apply to protect sensitive data on your PC. BitLocker is only available in Windows Vista Ultimate and Enterprise though, and your computer must meet BitLocker's strict requirements. If the stars align, you will have access to BitLocker encryption.

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    BitLocker encryption is a feature available in Windows Vista Ultimate and Enterprise editions that lets you encrypt data on your hard drive with the strongest encryption technology available. Encrypting scrambles the data, and only a user with the appropriate key can unscramble it and access it. Encrypting data in this manner protects the data even if your PC is stolen or your hard drive is removed and installed in another computer.

    Encryption is simple too, once set up, you only need select a checkbox for the files to encrypt. You control who can read the files, and you maintain complete control over your data. Encrypting is seamless too; any encrypted file is encrypted upon closing the file, and decrypted on opening.

    Here's some addition information regarding BitLocker encryption:

    • BitLocker offers full-disk encryption. This means when BitLocker is enabled, the entire hard disk is encrypted.
    • You can encrypt additional disk partitions.
    • If BitLocker discovers a change to the BIOS or startup files during the boot process, it will lock the system and prompt you for a recovery key or password.

    It's important to understand that BitLocker requires you have a "key" to unlock your PC. This key is what unlocks BitLocker, and can be stored on a USB drive. If you lose the key, you can use a recovery password to access the drive. However, if you don't have a key, and you don't have a recovery password, you're not getting in. There is no recovery option. Don’t lose your key.

    To turn on BitLocker:

    1. Open Control Panel, click Security, and locate BitLocker Drive Encryption. [See Image 1]

    2. Click Protect Your Computer By Encrypting Data On Your Disk. If the PC is configured correctly, you'll be advised. If not, you'll be advised as well. [See Image 2]

    3. If necessary, complete the configuration requirements. Your computer will need at least two volumes (partitions) and must be configured with NTFS for starters, and it must have TPM hardware - which stands for Trusted Platform Module. Don’t worry if you don't know what this is, you'll be prompted if your computer doesn’t have it. If your PC only has one partition, use the BitLocker Drive Preparation Tool, if you're a Vista Ultimate user. (It's not available to Enterprise users.)

    4. Enable BitLocker and create the required keys and passwords. Note that it may take some time for BitLocker to encrypt all of you date. While you're waiting, remember, keep that key and recovery password in a safe place!

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    Locate BitLocker in Control PanelFind out if your PC meets BitLocker's requirements