Full-Disk Encryption Suites

One stolen laptop loaded with sensitive information could sink your business. To avoid disaster, a comprehensive security strategy must include a way to prevent data leakage from your mobile

November 3, 2006

21 Min Read
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Corporate america, universities and government entities alike are under the gun to stop data leakage from mobile devices gone astray. We decided to sight in on the best way to keep data safe if hardware falls into the wrong hands--full-disk encryption.

Implementing a full-disk encryption suite across the enterprise isn't easy. Nor is it inexpensive: The least costly product we tested runs close to $70 per device even at 1,000 seats. So yes, cost and complexity are significant, but so is the threat: In the 2006 CSI/FBI survey, laptop/mobile hardware theft was second only to viruses as the most prevalent type of attack detected in the past 12 months, cited by nearly half of respondents. Losses per respondent increased from $19,562 in 2005 to $30,057 in 2006. Constant media scrutiny of laptop thefts means money spent on encryption could pay off in good PR.

And enterprises may soon see some downward price pressure as Microsoft makes a play for this market. We found its BitLocker full-disk encryption utility, which will ship in the Enterprise and Ultimate versions of Vista, reasonably easy to use (see page 58). It's not an immediate threat to dedicated disk-encryption products because not all computers have TPMs (Trusted Platform Modules), on which BitLocker relies heavily. But in a few years, it could be a contender.

Of course, full-disk encryption, though valuable, isn't a "solve it all" data-protection solution. It will shield a hard drive from compromise if the device goes missing. But it won't stop application- and OS-level or virus attacks. Antivirus and host firewalls are still needed. Backup-encryption suites and data-leakage-detection mechanisms are vital as well (see "Plug the Data Drain").

In addition, these products are still maturing. Several vendors we spoke with are planning new releases in the coming months. But for organizations whose employees must transport sensitive data, the current offerings are worth considering.

Don't Go Halfway

Full-disk encryption is invasive, so why not use just file-level encryption? Because even motivated end users can't be expected to know where every instance of sensitive data resides. Microsoft Outlook and popular Web browsers leave attachments scattered across a file system--often in places even IT wouldn't think to look. And folder-level encryption will help only if IT can tightly control all files and applications. Right. Full-disk encryption is your best line of defense for preventing the extraction of data residing on stolen devices.

By The Numbers Click to enlarge in another window

But full-disk encryption done wrong will disrupt business processes. It goes without saying that rolling out any new application calls for careful preparation, but we'll say it anyway: You must plan--extensively--for configuring policies, what to do if a hard drive goes bad, reinstalling the OS if the encryption product becomes corrupt, where to store master keys or passwords if you go that route, and more. And prepare your helpdesk for calls from users who've forgotten their passwords and locked themselves out of their laptops.

Clearly, powerful administration and management features are crucial in an enterprisewide full-disk encryption rollout so IT can easily perform day-to-day functions, such as resetting users' and administrators' passwords and PINs, and resetting a master password or PIN, if applicable. This reality is reflected in our scoring.

To determine which products are most enterprise-ready, we asked six vendors to send us products that provide full-disk encryption for desktops and laptops. PGP, SafeBoot and SafeNet sent offerings to our Neohapsis partner labs. Entrust and Voltage Security declined because they resell products from PointSec Mobile Technologies and SafeBoot, respectively. PointSec didn't respond to our invitation.

The three products we examined successfully encrypted data on our test systems, but SafeBoot's Device Encryption stands out. Its management console is easy to use and intuitive. User recovery is straightforward, and its Web Recovery application is a nice touch that will be much appreciated by helpdesks: Users log in to the self-service Web Recovery app and set up challenge-response questions. If they lock themselves out, they can call the helpdesk, which can log in to the app, access the challenge-response and issue a one-time key.PGP's Whole Disk Encryption scored well in auditing and logging, and is the lowest-priced option. But PGP must do better at incorporating full-disk encryption options into its Universal Server management interface.

We can't recommend SafeNet ProtectDrive 7.2 for enterprise use. Not only are its management and integration features lacking, it actually modified the Active Directory schema in our test environment. In a production setting, this would be inexcusable.

We were disappointed that all three products support only Windows. Call us wild optimists, but we hoped some would work on Mac OS X machines, maybe even Linux devices. Perhaps the advent of BitLocker will encourage these vendors to broaden their horizons?

Beyond Ciphers

We structured our testing around five questions that will concern IT managers and desktop administrators who are considering an organizationwide deployment of full-disk encryption.1. Does encryption start pre- or post-os boot?
Typically, a boot sequence goes like this: Power on, CPU initialized. BIOS scans memory, checking for hardware like video cards and hard drives, then looks for a master boot record to load. All the products we tested alter the final step: As the BIOS looks for a master boot record to load, the encryption product takes over control by loading its own boot loader. The encryption product then prompts for a user name and/or password/PIN/passphrase. SafeBoot's and SafeNet's products prompt for a user name and password. PGP prompts for a passphrase only.

All the products start full-disk encryption protection pre-OS boot. This process lets only authenticated users boot the OS. It also means authenticated users can run utilities for forensics purposes or to ghost the drive.

2. Does encryption support hibernation/suspend modes?
Busy users often don't shut down their laptops at the end of the work day--they suspend or hibernate the device so they can pick up where they left off. From a security perspective, this is cause for concern: If the disk-encryption product doesn't encrypt memory as it's being written to the hard drive, and the laptop is stolen, your data can be compromised by someone mounting the drive and reading the data that was written from memory. Fortunately, all the products we tested constantly encrypt data that's written to the hard drive. So if an attacker steals the laptop, taking out the drive and mounting it on another machine will not give access.

SafeBoot's Device Encryption includes a secure screensaver--and only an authorized user can unlock it.

3. How do users reset their passwords or PINS?
How much time and effort will the helpdesk expend resetting forgotten passwords and PINs? If your organization is security-conscious enough to implement full-disk encryption, you probably have a strong password policy requiring users to change their passwords every few months, meaning a fair number of resets.SafeBoot Device Encryption and SafeNet ProtectDrive use a challenge-response system to generate keys, which users give to the helpdesk when they forget passwords. The helpdesk can then generate a one-time key to boot the drive, after which users must change their passwords. All three products support Active Directory integration, though we use support loosely with SafeNet.

SafeBoot Device Encryption let us create a Web Helpdesk, a Web application where helpdesk staffers can log in and reset user passwords. Device Encryption also has that useful Web Recovery feature. SafeNet does not support any Web-based helpdesk or Web self-recovery option. And PGP's approach is different. Users can easily change their passphrases, but they must log into their accounts and use the PGP Desktop software to do so. Also, if you enabled key recovery in the PGP Universal Server, the helpdesk can recover a user's password. If this option is not enabled, the admin won't be able to recover or reset the user's passphrase.

4. How does an administrator reset a password or PIN?
IT groups regularly need admin access to end-user machines for various tasks, such as patching and updating software, recovering/reinstalling the operating system, and for forensics purposes. So it's good policy to require admins to change their passwords regularly.

SafeBoot shines here. Within the management interface we could grant specific admin rights to a user or group. The process of changing a password or PIN is then the same as for an end user. With PGP, admins would log in to the PGP Universal Server and change their passwords from there. SafeNet has no admin password. The user who installs SafeNet is the admin for that machine, period.

5. How does an administrator reset the master password or pin, if applicable?
If a user were fired and refused to give IT the credentials to unlock his hard drive, data could be lost--unless there's a master key to decrypt any drive in the organization. On the other hand, if the drive on which you store your master key is compromised, it's game over. We'd rather err on the side of caution.SafeBoot Device Encryption doesn't have a master password, nor does it use a common key to encrypt laptop drives, eliminating concern over securely storing a master key. PGP's product also does not have a master key. On the other hand, SafeNet ProtectDrive uses a method we're really uncomfortable with. Depending on how you install the product, you use the same key to encrypt every hard drive or create a new key for every installation instance. Both are unacceptable. Protecting just one key or protecting 15,000 keys--if you lose the key, you lose the data. That's a risk that would be hard for any admin to swallow.

Feel The Power

Management is the mother of all requirements. We wanted to be able to lock out users; give specific permissions to users; create user groups; push updates; integrate to an LDAP or Active Directory infrastructure; and set permissions for user passwords, password lengths, password strengths, retry attempts, lockout times and user recovery. Oh, and we wanted the management interface to be easy to understand and use.

Again, SafeBoot was at the head of the class. The SafeBoot Administrator breaks management tasks down by user, group and machine; each category has multiple options, like setting password restrictions and creating ACLs (access-control lists). We could lock out a user with a click of the mouse.

SafeBoot provides a few ways to reset passwords. Users call the organization's helpdesk, where staffers can use the SafeBoot management interface, if they have access, or the Web HelpDesk application, which lets the helpdesk connect to the Web application. SafeBoot also has Web Recovery. This feature is a great for enterprises, which won't need to create separate groups to access the SafeBoot administrative management interface. We also liked SafeBoot's handy diagnostic and repair utility, SafeTech, which is useful if a drive becomes corrupted.SafeBoot includes LDAP and Active Directory connectors. We used the Active Directory connector to populate users into the SafeBoot infrastructure. SafeBoot lets you force a synchronization policy down to users if changes are to be implemented immediately. We tested this by locking out a user and forcing synchronization. When we attempted to log in, we were denied access to the OS.

There is one caveat: We could synchronize only when the user is online and the management interface can communicate with the device. In fact, none of the products provide network access at the boot level, so you can't sync a change--for example, locking out users--until they log on to the network.

We found SafeNet Device Encryption's management infrastructure sorely lacking. SafeNet provided a management server that integrates into Active Directory. We were appalled that it modified the Active Directory schema in our test environment--a deal breaker in most organizations. To add insult to injury, there's no way to lock out a user, and the server component also has limited functionality. It lets the admin grant or restrict access only to serial ports and the LPT port.

SafeNet says it will release by press time an updated version of ProtectDrive that will add functionality to the management portion of the server component. And, SafeNet does provide a number of handy DOS utilities that can recover an unbootable or corrupt system.

We also were disappointed by the user management within PGP Whole Disk Encryption. PGP has been in the encryption game for a long time, and we expected a polished user management interface. Instead, we found scant options for full-disk encryption functionality. For example, there are no ACL functions to restrict what users can access or, more important, what they can do.The PGP Universal Server is clearly designed for PGP's other products--full-disk encryption management seemed just bolted on, without any real attention to everything a deployment would require. The Java Web interface was sleek, but very easy to get lost in.

On The Audit Trail

Audit and event logs are vital to establish an audit trail and determine when users are changing passwords, if there were failed attempts to log in to an account or if there's an error occurring on an encrypted drive. From a forensics standpoint, logs are necessary to keep track of questionable activity.

Here, SafeBoot rises to the top once again. SafeBoot keeps a log of all users, groups and machines. It also keeps logs of all synchronizations that occur and if they were completed or failed. When we checked the audit logs, they were populated with a wealth of info: Users logged in, failed log-in attempts, checks for configuration updates and when passwords were recovered. SafeBoot also gave us the option to define who can view, export or clear logs. One downside is that SafeBoot did not provide an option to export logs to a syslog server, a critical function in many monitoring environments.

PGP provides logging through its Web interface and also graphs activities and statistics. We were impressed by PGP's search option. When looking for a specific log or time, we could narrow down or pinpoint an event. Another feature that makes PGP distinctive is being able to send logs to an external syslog server.SafeNet has a pop-up dialog that appears when a user logs in, listing the number of unsuccessful login attempts, but there is no central aggregation center for logging. The lack of robust logging will discourage many organizations, and SafeNet must address this in upcoming versions.

Wrap It Up

Our price grade is based on a perpetual license, per seat for 1,000 seats. PGP Whole Disk Encryption with PGP Universal Management Server was the most affordable, at $67.10 including first-year maintenance. For those who want to hedge their bets while waiting for Vista, it's also available by annual subscription for $28 per seat. Whole Disk Encryption would be a good choice for shops that use other PGP products. SafeNet ProtectDrive 7.2 cost $81 in our scoring scenario, while SafeBoot Device Encryption was $123. Neither company provided details on maintenance or subscription options.

Will Vista Terminate Dedicated Disk-encryption Suites?

Microsoft has been pushing strong security with its new desktop OS, Windows Vista. Part of that push involves a full-disk encryption add-on for Vista Enterprise and Ultimate versions, called BitLocker. This is an interesting premise: Combining hardware with software adds an additional layer of security that no third-party software can currently match.A major component of BitLocker is the use of a Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2). A TPM consists of a microchip that is part of the motherboard. The module can securely generate cryptographic keys, as well as store keys, passwords and digital certificates.

A few hardware vendors are including TPMs in their newer systems. Lenovo's ThinkPad R52, ThinkPad T43 and ThinkPad T43p all have them. We see this as a growing trend. BitLocker can be used on computers without TPMs. However, users would need to use a USB device to store the start-up key. The BIOS must be able to read a USB key at boot time.

BitLocker is simple to set up. We needed to configure two partitions, with the first at least 1.5 GB. This partition is used to load boot components and to check if any components have been tampered with before the decryption process begins.

The second partition is the main partition, where the operating system and user data reside. We went through the whole Vista install and placed Vista on the second, larger partition. We went into the Control Panel, clicked on BitLocker, followed a few steps and were set with full-disk encryption. User management is done through Active Directory. Active Directory can store TPM keys as well as the recovery key--a 48-digit key generated during the BitLocker install.

More information about Vista's BitLockerSynopsis

To qualify, products must support full-disk encryption on desktops and laptops and be suitable for the enterprise--they must have centralized management and logging capabilities.


• PGP• SafeBoot • SafeNet


All test machines ran Windows XP Professional, patched to the latest service pack and hot fix. Each product had an Active Directory on a Windows 2003 SP1 host patched to the latest hot fix, and each host was able to attach to the tree. All management software was installed on Windows 2003 SP1, except PGP Universal server, which packages Linux as its OS. All hosts were built in virtual machines using VMware and Microsoft Virtual PC. We ran through six use-case scenarios:

» How does a user reset a passphrase, PIN or key?

» How does an administrator reset a passphrase, PIN or key?» Is there a master password or PIN, and if so, how does an admin reset it?

» Is encryption supported during hibernation/suspend modes?

» How robust is user management?

» Are audit trails and logging suitable for enterprise use?


• Management: 30%. Rates how suitable the product is for enterprise use based on our ability to lock out users, set password and log-in policy, create groups, integrate with directories and more.

• Features: 25%. This grade includes such capabilities as whether encryption starts pre- or post-OS boot and whether the products protect data when laptops are in hibernation or suspend modes.

• Price: 20%. Per seat, based on a perpetual license for 1,000 users

• Configuration: 15%. Rates how complex the product would be to set up and roll out across a distributed enterprise, based on our testing of the client and administrative management software.• Audit trail and logging: 10%. Grade is based on how well we could establish an audit trail and track, for example, adherence to password policies and failed log-in attempts. Logs are crucial to forensic analysis.

SafeBoot Device Encryption covered all our scenarios with style. Its interface is clean and intuitive. The management of users, the many ways users can reset their passwords and its detailed logging make it the strongest product in this review.

PGP Whole Disk Encryption covered all our scenarios in a basic form, but the lack of management options for full-disk encryption in the Universal Management Server hurt its score. However, PGP is the most affordable option and would be a good choice for companies that use other PGP products.

SafeNet's ProtectDrive did encrypt the drives on our test machines. However, we were unhappy with its handling of master passwords/PINs, its management lagged well behind rivals, and it modified the Active Directory schema in our test environment. We cannot recommend the current version for enterprise deployment.

SafeBoot Device EncryptionSafeBoot sent us client and server management software that included the Active Directory connector. Right out of the box, SafeBoot performed smoothly. The client and administrative management software installation was a breeze: just point and click.

SafeBoot supports a wide rage of directory services, including LDAP, Active Directory and Novell NDS. The Active Directory connector was easy to set up and pulled down the list of users we wanted to add to the SafeBoot user groups.

The Web HelpDesk addition greatly reduces the need for an organization to come up with separate helpdesk solutions for full-disk encryption support, and its management interface is robust, yet easy to use. We easily set password restrictions and defined password lengths and lock-out times. Password restriction parameters are particularly granular: You can set the amount of alpha, alphanumeric, numeric and symbols a password must have. You also can enable password content restrictions, such as no user names, no simple words and no sequences.

Each user can have what SafeBoot calls "admin rights," though they're not what we'd normally associate with the phrase. These are levels of rights and consist of specific actions ranging from all administrative functions to no rights at all. We could set rights for a whole group or fine-tune to individual users. Rights range from adding users, groups and machines to performing recovery, viewing and exporting logs, and deleting users.

SafeBoot also lets IT manage each individual machine so, for example, you can assign individual users or a group of users to a machine if your company uses shared laptops. We added multiple users and a group to one laptop and were able to log in as each user.Forcing changes down to users is a simple point-and-click affair. The management interface let us create an offline or online installation set for each end user. Viewing audit logs is as simple as right-clicking on a user or a machine and going to the "view audit log" option.

SafeBoot's user interface is clean and easy to use. If you can point and click, you can use the management interface. SafeBoot also has a handy diagnostic and repair utility called SafeTech, useful if a drive has become corrupted.

The product does have a few drawbacks: The SafeBoot database is a flat-file database, and we wonder how well it will scale. Also, the lack of logging to an external source, like a syslog server, was a let down. But the product still won this review handily.

PGP Whole Disk Encryption With PGP Universal Management Server

PGP sent us a client and its Universal Management Server. Installation of the server was somewhat tedious. The management interface looks pretty, but will take some getting used to--one can easily get lost. PGP incorporates a dizzying array of options for its other products, like PGP Disk and key management for its secure e-mail offering. Unfortunately, the full-disk encryption product seems to be little more than an afterthought. From the management interface, our options were to allow access for the user to start encryption or decryption of the drive, let the administrator recover the disk remotely, automatically encrypt boot volume upon installation, and require the Aladdin eToken. There are a scant few other options, such as defining whether the user or server is allowed to generate and manage keys.PGP provides support for LDAP and Active Directory and is the only product to have its management platform based on Linux. Enrollment of users into the PGP Universal Server can be tedious if you're using PGP for full-disk encryption only.

One strong point of PGP is that it uses passphrases. When users must change their passwords frequently, they typically just alter one character or add a number. With passphrases, you can have one long sentence that the user would change only once a year. You can set a minimum passphrase length and a percentage to enforce passphrase quality.

By the time you read this PGP should have released a new version of Universal Server and the Whole Disk Encryption client, which it says address some of the problems with the management interface. PGP is also a viable option if a company already uses other PGP products.

Safenet Protectdrive 7.2.5

SafeNet's ProtectDrive product does its main function--encrypting the drive--reasonably well. However, its management and integration are subpar. The fact that the SafeNet server portion modified the Active Directory schema in our test environment, combined with its lack of centralized management, make us unable to recommend it for enterprise deployment.The advanced configuration program let us set log-on messages, authentication methods, permissions for serial ports and LPT ports, and lock-out time periods.

Like PGP, SafeNet has a new version of its product coming out soon, and the company told us it has addressed many of these issues and added options on the management side.

Tom Wabiszczewicz is a security consultant for Neohapsis, a Chicago-based security consulting firm. Write to him at [email protected].


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