Learn About BitLocker (Encryption for Windows)

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Q. What is BitLocker?

A. BitLocker Drive Encryption is an integral security feature for Windows computers. It provides protection for your computer's operating system as well as the data stored it, ensuring that the data remains encrypted even if the computer is tampered with when the operating system is not running. This helps protect against "offline attacks," those made by disabling or circumventing the installed operating system, or made by physically removing the hard drive to attack the data separately. 

Q. Who should be using Bitlocker?

A. ISG recommends that faculty and staff enable BitLocker if they use laptops containing Brown Restricted Information (especially frequent travelers). Use Identity Finder to determine the presence of BRI. If detected, either remove it, or if necessary, encrypt it.

Q. How can I obtain it?

A. BitLocker is built into the Windows operating system, but it not enabled by default. Your IT Support Professional will determine if you need BitLocker enabled and perform the necessary steps. 

Q. How do I use BitLocker to encrypt my laptop?

A. Your IT Support Professional will enable BitLocker. 

Q. Where can I find written documentation?

A. Microsoft provides an overview and guide for using BitLocker with Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Q. What should I know about decryption?

A. In the event that you feel your computer needs to be decrypted contact your IT Support Professional, or if none, the IT Service Center. Note that the decryption process will take about the same length of time as encryption did.

Q. What restrictions are there when traveling out of the country with an encrypted laptop?

A. U.S. federal regulations control the export of "encryption commodities, software and technology" (see Code of Federal Regulations, Title 15, Section 740.17). There are, however, license exceptions that allow you to take encrypted laptops with them, provided that they return within the year and "retain effective control and ownership." This coverage is global except for a handful embargoed and sanctioned countries designated by the U.S. government. Travel to any of these countries requires that you remove any encryption technology from your laptop before entering it.

In addition, as some countries ban or severely regulate the use of encryption, you should check country-specific information before traveling with an encrypted laptop. Following is a partial list of those countries. Check the U.S. State Department website before traveling to verify that the information is still current. In addition, any faculty, post-docs, graduate students and PI's should check-in with OVPR, Insurance and Risk, and the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) before travelling overseas.

  • Burma (you must apply for a license)
  • Belarus (import and export of cryptography is restricted; you must apply for a license from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the State Centre for Information Security or the State Security Agency before entry)
  • China (you must apply for a permit from the Beijing Office of State Encryption Administrative Bureau; travelers should also refrain from purchasing a replacement laptop when visiting China as it is known  for intellectual espionage and such laptops could contain malware to steal content added to it)
  • Hungary (import controls)
  • Iran (strict domestic controls)
  • Israel (personal-use exemption – must present the password when requested to prove the encrypted data is personal)
  • Morocco (stringent import, export and domestic controls enacted)
  • Russia (you must apply for a license)
  • Saudi Arabia (encryption is generally banned)
  • Tunisia (import of cryptography is restricted)
  • Ukraine (stringent import, export and domestic controls)


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