Popular Linux distributions make it pretty easy to encrypt your home folder or even entire partitions if you’d like, without many issues. This is a great option to have if you’re someone who needs their data, whether it’s the home folder or entire partitions, that need to be encrypted. In most cases, all you need to do is select a check mark, and it’ll take care of the rest.
But some people select it just because it sounds like a good option to have (and it can be) and they don’t think about what kinds of consequences might result from such a move later on. By now you might be asking, “What? How could encryption possibly be a bad thing?” Well, here’s why.
Recovering Data Is Harder
In the event that something in your system has screwed up, whether it be the operating system or some hardware part except the hard drive, you’ll more than likely want to get the data off your hard drive and move it to a more practical place. For data that isn’t encrypted, this can be easily done by running (at the minimum) a Linux LiveCD on any other computer, connect the hard drive to that computer, and then start moving your data. With your data encrypted, it’s not as easy as 1-2-3.
You’ll first have to search for some instructions on how to get past the encryption manually before you can reach your data. I can almost guarantee you that there aren’t any graphical tools that will do this, so people who aren’t comfortable with terminal consoles will have a difficult time.
Did I Mention Recovery Is Harder?
Speaking of systems that suddenly screw up, if your entire partition is encrypted you’ll have a harder time running recovery techniques on your system when needed. For example, if your system loses power as it’s installing a newer kernel, and the master boot record or its configuration files become corrupted because of the sudden loss of power, you’ll need to run a recovery disc and enter in commands in the hope that it’ll return to normal.
While recovery alone isn’t the easiest thing to do for Linux novices, doing a recovery on an encrypted Linux system will be even harder, again mainly for the reason that it requires extra steps that cannot be classified as “beginner-friendly”.
Possible Performance Impact
Another item to note is that encryption may not be the best performance option for very low-powered devices. I know, plenty of devices today are definitely powerful enough to deal with encryption with negligible performance impact, but once you start looking at netbooks and older low-power devices, the performance margin suddenly decreases.
As netbooks are already slow enough (generally speaking) while running almost any operating system, you’ll want to try and get more performance out of devices like those rather than bog it down with encryption.
Use Something Better
Last but not least, do you really need to encrypt vital system folders or partitions to protect your data? I’m pretty sure that most common users don’t have an entire hard drive full of data they want to encrypt. Instead of using such a large encryption scope, you can much more easily create TrueCrypt containers and place all of your data in there.
This is beneficial in that it only encrypts what you need to encrypt, it doesn’t make recovery-type actions any harder than they already are, and it doesn’t impact your computer’s performance whenever you don’t have the encrypted container mounted. Simply put, encryption is good, and this is the best way to do it.
As always, what you end up doing is completely up to you. If you feel that you need to encrypt your entire home folder or even your whole partition, go ahead as long as you’re aware of what might be facing you on the other side. However, I still recommend that people who are unsure or are new to Linux should keep their stuff unencrypted and only use a TrueCrypt container if they feel encryption would be helpful.
Did you enable encryption on your Linux partitions? If so, is there anything you’d like to add to this article or dispute? Let us know in the comments!