How to encrypt your Windows PC using TrueCrypt (Step by Step)

A Windows log on password can easily be removed if your computer is lost or stolen so the best way to protect the information it contains is to encrypt its hard drive.

10 November 2012 How to...  Security, Windows PCs

A Windows log on password can easily be removed if your computer is lost or stolen so the best way to protect the information it contains is to encrypt its hard drive. Here we show you step by step how to encrypt a Windows PC using the free TrueCrypt software (for Windows 7; it is NOT compatible with Windows 8.  For Windows 8 Pro you should use Bitlocker).  There is also a video version of this article.

Development of TrueCrypt has now ceased and the original website taken offline, but at the time of writing we still advise using TrueCrypt version 7.1a to encrypt Windows 7 computers.

Before you begin

Encrypting your Windows PC using TrueCrypt is a fairly straighforward process however before you begin there are a few things you need to do:

  1. Update Windows
    Make sure your Windows PC is up to date with all its security/operating system updates etc.
  2. Check your hard drive
    Make sure you hard disk is free of any problems (see how to check for problems with a Windows PC hard drive).
  3. Take a Backup
    Make sure you have a backup of any important files.  The encryption process can take hours to complete and if there is a problem you may need urgent access to particular files so a backup is strongly recommended.
  4. Temporarily disable power-saving and screensavers
    We don't want the PC to restart itself or go to sleep during this process so it is worth disabling any power-saving features and screensavers.
  5. Have a blank CD/DVD ready
    Make sure your Windows PC can "burn" CDs/DVDs and have a blank CD/DVD ready - you will create a "Rescue Disk" as part of the TrueCrypt installation process
  6. Allow plenty of time
    Although encryption can be paused it is best to let it complete so allow plenty of time for your computer to encrypt the hard drive - this could be anywhere between 3 and 12 hours depending on your PC.
  7. Read the instructions before starting
    And then read them again

Download TrueCrypt

When you are ready (make sure you have checked the "Before you begin" section) then we can download and install TrueCrypt:

  1. Browse to https://www.grc.com/misc/truecrypt/TrueCrypt%20Setup%207.1a.exe and run the file, or open it once downloaded.

1. Install TrueCrypt

  1. Check the "I accept the license terms" box
  2. Click Next.

TrueCrypt Setup License Terms

2. Select the Installation type

Ensure that Install is selected and click Next to continue.

TrueCrypt Setup Install

3. Select the installation options

Leave the options as they are and click Install to continue. 

TrueCrypt Setup Options

4. Close Setup

Once TrueCrypt has been installed, click Finish and then "No" at the Tutorial prompt.  Note the request for donations (see About TrueCrypt at the end of this article).

TrueCrypt Setup Completed

Encrypt your hard drive

Before encrypting your hard drive, please re-read the "Before you begin" section again as well as read through these instructions so you are familar with what will happen.

Start TrueCrypt by double-clicking the TrueCrypt icon on your Desktop.

TrueCrypt Application Icon

1. Start the Volume Creation Wizard

  1. Click the Tools menu
  2. Choose Volume Creation Wizard

TrueCrypt Encryption Wizard

2. Wizard Mode

  1. Ensure "Encrypt the system partition or entire system drive" is selected.
  2. Click Next.

TrueCrypt Encrypt Volume Mode

3. Type of System Encryption

  1. Ensure that "Normal" is selected.
  2. Click Next. 

TrueCrypt Encryption System Type

4. Area to Encrypt

  1. Ensure "Encrypt the whole drive" is selected.
  2. Click Next.
  3. If you receive a message about an unusual disk layout and advising you to just encrypt the windows system partition, choose this option instead.

TrueCrypt Encryption Area

5. Number of Operating Systems

  1. Ensure "Single-boot" is selected (assuming you only one Windows installation).
  2. Click Next to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Number of Operating Systems

6. Encryption of Host Protected Area

  1. Ensure "No" is selected.
  2. Click Next to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Host Protected Area

7. Encryption Options

  1. Click Next to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Options

8. Password

Remember, at least 10 characters

  1. Type the password.
  2. Confirm the password.
  3. Click Next to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Password

9. Password Warning

  1. If prompted, click Yes at the password length warning.
  2. If needed, click Next to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Password warning

10. Collecting Random Data

  1. Move your mouse around in the window for 5-10 seconds.
  2. Click Next to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Random Data 

11. Keys Generated

Click Next to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Keys Generated

12. Rescue Disc

Click Next to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Rescue Disc

13. Rescue Disk Recording

Burn the ISO image to a CD/DVD.  If you have Windows Vista or Windows 7 you will be taken through this process.  If you have Windows XP you will need to burn this yourself.

Once you have created your Rescue Disc, insert the disc back into the drive and click Next to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Rescue Disc recording

14. Rescue Disc Verified

Click Next to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Recue Disc verified

15. Wipe Mode

Click Next to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Wipe Mode

16. System Encryption Pretest

Click Test to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Pretest

17. Important Notes

You may want to print the Notes for reference if there are problems when the PC restarts

Click OK to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Please Read

18. Restart

At the Restart now prompt, click Yes to continue.

TrueCrypt Encryption Restart

19. Password Prompt

Your PC will now restart and you will be prompted for the password.  Type the password and press ENTER to continue.

TrueCrypt Enter Boot Password

20. Pre-test Completed

Once Windows has started, TrueCrypt should report that the pretest has been completed.

Click Encrypt to begin encrypting the hard drive.

TrueCrypt Encryption Pretest Completed

21. Encryption

Encryption can take anywhere between 3 to 12 hours to complete however the time left will be indicated for you.

TrueCrypt Encryption In Progress

22. Encryption completed

Once completed, TrueCrypt will report that it has successfully encrypted your system partition/drive.  Click OK to finish.

TrueCrypt Encryption Completed

23. Finished

You have now encrypted your Windows hard drive. Remember to keep your Rescue Disc safe and don't forget to keep a regular backup of your PC as if there is a problem with it, the hard drive must first be decrypted before it can be fixed and decryption often takes longer than it took to encrypt it.

About TrueCrypt

Before showing you how to encrypt your computer, a few quick but important notes about the TrueCrypt software.

  1. It isn't on the approved list for UK Government encryption software The core underlying encryption system is the same as that used by "approved" software and so you can be assured that the information is being properly encrypted.
  2. Encryption is only as good as the password Computers are very good at processing millions of passwords every second and so the security of this type of encryption is only as good as your password.  We cannot stress this enough, you must choose a complex password of at least 10 characters for your encryption password.

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