Encryption – Who Needs It?

Lately I Have taken a few calls from professors, lecturers and distressed pupils who’ve some really precious work, sometimes several years worth, stored on memory sticks or their pen drives.
There seems to be a trend now for these devices to be encrypted (see http://recoveringharddrives.blogspot.co.uk/). The user picks a password when the device is first bought. This password becomes the encryption key and from this point all data saved on the device is encrypted, meaning that unless you possess the password you won’t have the ability to decrypt the data.
There are various strengths of encryption, and different makers will use varying strengths of encryption on their devices.
This is all well and good but what happens when (as we have seen lately) the memory stick no longer responds to the password or stops responding completely? In both cases, decrypting and regaining the data from such apparatus is far from straightforward.
A Occasionally the USB connector can detach entirely, other times it merely bends, frequently it’s impossible to obtain the data on it after. Impact damage on memory sticks can cause far more problems than merely a bent interface connection. The circuit board in the device can be damaged and in extraordinary cases the memory chip including the the data can snap. I can often can regain it, once this occurs the data is gone for good and not even.
On other occasion the subroutine that handles the encryption / decryption process could be damaged and stop responding, so the data is left on the memory stick, encrypted with no way of getting it unless the memory stick is reprogrammed or the memory chip read on a chip reader and later decrypted and the data stitched back together. It is a long and arduous task to say the least and is described in part in this blog post http://masterterry.roon.io/.
Decryption adds another level of protection to our data but do we really desire it? I don’t understand about you but other people’s data actually isn’t that fascinating. Most pen drives contain pictures, music, some documents and maybe a film or two. It is barely the data a secret agent would be sent on a mission to recover (see http://datarecovery7383.wordpress.com/), so why do people see the need to encrypt it? The likely reply is the fact that they don’t, instead producers have made encryption a unique selling point that gives their devices an obvious edge over non encrypted ones. Like when the memory stick fails this may be accurate in certain situations but in others, and encrypted device is a distinct disadvantage.

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